By Andrew Dawson Jan 18, 2020
To close out her 2019, Lupita Hernandez stopped after every mile to plant a small flag along Interstate-10 between Houston and San Antonio. Each pause in her 200-mile run was to honor a fellow veteran battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), something she has dealt with since she retired from the Marines in 2004.
PTSD still affects her life each day, whether personally or in Hernandez’s work in the Veteran Treatment Court in Harris County, Texas. On average, 22 veterans commit suicide everyday, and that’s a statistic that is always on her mind.
“I wanted to bring awareness to the stigma around mental health and PTSD,” Hernandez told Runner’s World.
“We need to understand and treat the condition better, whether that’s
hearing about the veterans who are thriving with PTSD or those suffering
more or have lost their lives to it.”
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When the 41-year-old attended an expedition trip for veterans called No Barriers Warriors in 2019, she was tasked with making a pledge that involved the community. Her veteran community was the obvious choice, but picking what to do and how to do it was a struggle.
Courtesy of Lupita Hernandez Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
The running habit she picked up in 2015 was an outlet for the anxiety and depression she was feeling at the time. She had done 50 and 100 milers, so why not try to run 200 miles from her hometown of Houston to San Antonio to raise money for the Sgt. Amon Gift Memorial Fund, which supports veterans and their families who are affected by PTSD.
“I live by the mantra, ‘If not me, then who?’” Hernandez said. “I know if I didn’t do this, who would? Especially as a female, I was inspired to do this for my brothers and sisters.”
In addition to just completing the run, Hernandez planned to carry a different flag with her for every mile she ran. Each had the name of a veteran who was battling PTSD or who had lost their battle to PTSD. Upon completing that mile with the flag, Hernandez, and the various pacers she had for her run, would plant the flag in the ground.
If the veteran was alive and able to join them on the run, they were saluted and Hernandez would say, “Fellow brother or sister, we are not alone.” If the veteran had died, she would salute the flag and say, “You are not forgotten, you are still here, and we are here for your other brothers and sisters.”
“The run was very painful and hard,” she said. “What kept me going was having those flags. When my mind or my body told me I couldn’t do this, I would just look at the flag and say I need to do it for these guys.”
Courtesy of Lupita Hernandez
Hernandez started her run on December 27 with many joining her, including her husband, Jairo Cruz, also a Marine. Her sister shared Hernandez’s efforts on social media and also Hernandez’s phone number. On the first day alone, she received 300 messages of encouragement from runners, veterans, and families of veterans all over the country.
“I received somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000
messages through text or Facebook over those four days,” Hernandez said.
“I got be a voice for people. That’s something I’ll never forget.”
Though she initially planned for three days, Hernandez broke the trek into four, 50-mile days and completed her run on New Year’s Eve Day.
In total, Hernandez raised $1,113, and is continuing to fundraise even though the run has ended. Her goal is to reach $7,500.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
If you or a Veteran you know is suffering from PTSD, Anxiety, Loneliness or Depression, you are not alone.
The – Minds At War – Crisis Support Helpline Number is open 24/7 and a First Responder is on call at all times.
- 0800 031 4368
You can also ring this same number during normal hours and seek advice, support and guidance.