ACROSS THE COUNTRY JOURNEY: Killinger raising awareness of PTSD in veterans

A Columbus veteran has about 587 miles left before he finishes a 3,333 mile run from coast-to-coast drawing attention to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Kyle Killinger, a Rightway Fasteners employee, has been an avid runner since grade school, and from 2016 through 2019, he has done 300-mile runs annually.

But this is the first (and likely only) time the Columbus resident has attempted a journey on foot from the Pacific to the Atlantic ocean, he said.

“I’ve run for 25 years and there’s no comparison to what I’m doing now,” Killinger said. “There’s nothing that can prepare you for this.”

After beginning July 19 in San Diego, California, the cross-country runner plans to arrive at the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C. on Nov. 13.

On Oct. 6, he crossed the Illinois-Indiana border near Terre Haute and reached his hometown of Columbus on Oct. 11. Once he was back home, Killinger allotted himself five days to re-energize with friends and family — especially his 9-year-old son, Braxon.

Supporters held a social event for Killinger at the Eagles Lodge on Wednesday — three days before he was scheduled to resume his cross-country trip.

Running for a purpose

A former Marine who served from 2007 to 2009, Killinger says the mission of each journey on foot is to draw attention to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He calls them his “Because He’s My Brother” runs.

Some veterans with PTSD see no other alternative to end their pain than by taking their own lives, Killinger said. On average, 22 American veterans die by suicide every day, he said.

“That number is probably a lot lower than what it really is,” Killinger said. “The statistics being used are just based on what’s been reported.”

He describes the suicide rate among veterans as “staggering, especially when you consider how much they have already sacrificed.”

With contributions, the sale of T-shirts and other items, Killinger said his ultimate goal is to financially create an organization that will help troubled Bartholomew County veterans. Current plans are to model his group after others that take discharged military personnel on fishing or sports outings, he said.

Although the outings are enjoyable, Killinger said the main purpose of these trips is to give the veterans an opportunity to interact, re-adjust to civilian life and deal with the memories of the horrors they’ve experienced.

“For all we have available (in Columbus), I don’t think we have that type of program locally,” Killinger said. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Killinger describes PTSD as one of the worst tragic development any person can experience, adding the number of those suffering from the illness is much larger than what most people realize.

“I am aware of how it attributes to everyday struggles in the lives of once strong souls,” Killinger wrote on social media. “It is not a tragedy of singularity. Once this disease moves in, it branches out to eat at the lives of family, friends, and even those simply reaching out to help. Each beautiful soul that battles PTSD has its own story and its own demons.”

The Columbus man has been upfront with donors and sponsors in letting them know some donations subsidize expenses of his “Because He’s My Brother” journeys.

Trip highlights

After spending his first two days in California, Killinger spent Days Three and Four running across the Mojave Desert.

“I got lucky,” he said. “It only got up to 79 during my first day in the desert, and 86 on the second. But after I left, it got up to 118 degrees again.”

His luck continued to hold out. Killinger said he did not yet run into unexpected or dangerous encounters as he averaged about 25 to 30 miles per day.

One of his biggest joys came at the halfway mark of his journey. That’s when 250 well-wishers greeted him in Granbury, Texas, just west of the Fort Worth/Dallas area, he said.

“I have met a lot of good people along the way,” the runner said. “That has really made this whole thing worth it.”

Up until he reached his hometown, Killinger was accompanied by Mike Manon of Canton, Ohio, a fellow veteran who drove an RV alongside the Columbus resident to ensure his safety, as well as provide a place for showering, resting, eating and sleeping. A new RV driver is scheduled to arrive to look after the local runner during the last leg of his trip.

After leaving Columbus, there are two main stops on Killinger’s itinerary before he reaches Washington D.C. — Carrollton, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he said.

With his long dark hair and beard, a number of social media posts compare Killinger to actor Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Forrest Gump in the 1994 hit movie.

It’s a comparison that Killinger says he both loves and embraces.

“When I watched that movie as a kid, I always thought that would be an amazing journey,” he said. “The really cool part is that when I planned my route, it included (Monument Valley, Utah) — the same place where Forrest stops running.”