Brendan O’Toole, on a 3,600 mile cross-country run from Oceanside, Calif., to Portland, Maine, enters Roswell, Thursday. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Brendan O’Toole has never liked running. He’s never competed in a marathon or a race and he could never understand why people competed on track and field or cross-country teams in high school.
However, since Nov. 11, the United States Marine Corps veteran has embarked on a 3,600-mile run across the country, starting from Oceanside, Calif., to end in Portland, Maine, with his project The Run For Veterans.
Averaging 15 miles a day — and even at night sometimes — O’Toole plans to trek across 21 states in an effort to raise $2 million to benefit three non-profit organizations that serve veterans. In doing so, he also hopes to raise awareness of issues veterans transitioning into civilian life face.
Recently, he crossed into Roswell and plans to hit the Texas state line Monday.
O’Toole, 24, completed a four-year military service career in June of 2012, as a sergeant. But the stress of active duty left him with personal anger issues he’s still working to resolve. He was hit especially hard after the suicide of his close, personal friend, who was also a veteran.
To help with the pain he and others are dealing with, O’Toole co-founded The Run for Veterans, based in Alexandria, Va., to provide support to other organizations he said contribute to the mental, physical and social well-being of military veterans: Team Red White and Blue, Give An Hour and the USO.
Similar to his boot camp experience, he said the first three months of his effort have been a test of patience and endurance, both personally and for the organization. “We’ve hit a lot of obstacles,” he said. “But we’ve overcome all those.”
O’Toole travels with a truck and RV, which were donated toward the effort. The truck, from Jack Taylor’s Alexandria Toyota, features a camouflage pattern and the logos of each of the three partnering organizations, as well as the emblems of all U.S. military service branches and American flags.
He invites others to run with him and usually, he is joined by fellow veterans. With him on this leg of the tour were his parents Denis and Joan O’Toole.
“I think it’s a terrific thing for him to do,” Denis said. “He has such a commitment to the people he served with.”
New Mexico has been the most important state as far as outreach to the community and government, Brendan said. Not only has he met with veterans and visited veterans’ organizations and sites, such as the Truth or Consequences Veterans Memorial, he also met with New Mexico’s Department of Veterans’ Services Secretary Timothy Hale.
In Texas, O’Toole plans to visit more veterans’ organizatons, including VA hospitals. For him, connecting with veterans and their families makes the point of the effort. “One person can only be so strong and I get my strength from the stories I hear,” he said.
It also is important, he said, to share with them his personal struggle “because a lot of veterans have an issue with saying they have a problem.”
“Everyone’s got their demons — I’ve got mine,” he said. After his run, he plans to use the services of Give An Hour, which offers counseling for veterans experiencing issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
If all funds aren’t raised at the end of his running effort, O’Toole said the organization will continue to raise money throughout the year.
“It’s important to continue what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s going to be a long, long battle for the veterans coming back; this problem doesn’t stop in five, 10 years. These issues from Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq stay until their time on this Earth is over.
“I know we’re just doing a small, little part, but one part is better than no part at all.”
For more information on The Run For Veterans and to track O’Toole’s progress, visit TheRunForVeterans.org and Facebook.com/Run4Vets.