Meet Eli Smith, an Ohioan with a mission to help those who have served others.
Currently, Smith is about halfway into a three-year and 13,000-plus mile journey to all four corners of the United States in an effort to raise awareness for veterans who are dealing with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and also to alert the public that some 20 veterans per day are lost to suicide because of the horrors of PTSD.
Smith, who served in the Army, said he lost a couple of his friends to PTSD related suicide and wanted to do something to stop more tragedies from happening.
The Ashville, Ohio, native said he heard about cross country journeys that other people were taking for various reasons and thought that would be a fit for him. Take the message to the road. But, it had to be unique.
“I wanted to do something that has never been done before,” Smith said.
The journey, by hike and now by bike, has been unique alright. It’s been downright dangerous at times.
Smith doesn’t have a support team with him. He doesn’t have a chase vehicle. It’s him versus the wilderness, Mother Nature and more.
Smith said he has been lost in the woods, out in the midst of storms, chased by wild animals and threatened with violence. There have been plenty near misses with motorists. He’s been at the end of his rope with no place to go for a good night’s sleep.
The whole journey parallels well with the idea of PTSD, which can make people feel alone, isolated and helpless to change their circumstances.
Smith gets through with determination and by accepting the help of other people. Great support—from food to needed supplies and a place to stay—it has sustained him.
The challenges are constant. Smith does everything he can to raise awareness through a continued social media campaign, through meetings with veterans groups, through interviews with media outlets and more. He says the equipment he has at current isn’t the greatest for disseminating all of the information he gathers, but he gathers it any way. Someday, with better equipment, he’ll be able to make more of the content available and to reach out to veterans.
He wants the veterans to see all the different parts of the country through his videos so they witness the greatness of America and realize the important role they played in defending all of it.
It’s time consuming to say the least. Smith has basically worked everyday for a year and a half, including birthdays and holidays.
It’s all worth it though.
Smith said he has gotten letters from veterans who said they were thinking about suicide until they learned about the journey. They changed their minds.
“It’s literally saving lives,” Smith said.
It’s changing lives too. Smith said he got a letter from a woman considering a divorce from her husband because he had given up on life. He just ate and slept and said almost nothing.
After seeing Smith’s videos, that man bought a scooter. His wife reports that he’s never home. He’s out meeting people, talking—living. And she notes that she is now happy to say that this man is now the man she married.
“I didn’t think it would have this big of an impact in my wildest dreams,” Smith said.
Interested in following Smith’s journey. Find him on Facebook at Eli Smith Four Corners Hike or on Instagram @4cornershike.
Donations are of course welcomed. Smith has put everything he has into this journey. He doesn’t have a savings account and the journey is reliant on the good will of the public. Even those who don’t donate can have an impact by sharing the word, by raising awareness and by shedding light on PTSD to give hope to veterans in their struggle.
After all, that’s what this thing has been about all along.