Avon man hikes to raise awareness of veteran suicide

On this Memorial Day weekend, we think again of the men and women who have died in the service of our country. We also recognize those who suffer because of this service.

On average, 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

An Avon man is devoting a long hike this weekend to making sure people know about the mental health issues that vets face.

When Rob Hayes goes on a hike, he’s never alone. With his faithful companion Luna by his side, the hike is therapy.

“It’s definitely something that’s really helped me stay together during, you know, the coronavirus and so I attribute it to that and so it’s something that I enjoy doing,” Hayes said.

Being in nature brings a certain calm.

The next big hike for Hayes will bring awareness. From the Erie-Attica Trail to Letchworth State Park, Hayes will raise money for the nonprofit Stop soldier suicide. He will travel 50 miles carrying a 40-pound backpack.

” It’s doable. And I think when you put it in the context of the cause that there is,” Hayes said. “It’s a small sacrifice, compared to, you know, again, all the soldiers who have, who made the ultimate sacrifice and to all who suffer in silence.

The Hayes family knows grief. That’s why it’s so important.

“My older brother Michael, whom we affectionately call Mitch. He committed suicide 24 years ago,” Hayes said.

Michael never served. But his brother John is a retired Navy pilot.

“We’ve always had the greatest respect for the military and veterans, and I think that’s a great combination, you know, of bringing those two causes together,” Hayes said.

Time on the track, for Hayes, is the best therapy.

Her mission is to bring light to those whose inner peace is more difficult to find.

“It’s definitely something we need to do something about and if we can, we should,” he said.

Hayes will complete his two-day trek on Saturday.