HOLLAND, Michigan — The waves crash against the shore at Holland State Park. A crowd of hundreds takes in the scenery as a few of them walk along the water. It's something almost any Michigander would find relaxing.
But try walking around Lake Michigan. Like, all of it.
Travis Snyder has done it twice now. He's a Zeeland native, a student at Grand Valley State University and a Marine veteran who spent seven months serving our country in Afghanistan.
"We had the mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan and police forces in their efforts against the Taliban," Snyder said.
"We were blessed to come back in one piece, but it was about a year after that we lost one of her own."
A friend and fellow Marine died by suicide.
"When we lost him, it was a moment for us all to check in with each other and have the conversations that we certainly hadn't had before with other guys like are you okay, doing all right? Is your heart and mind in the right place? And if not, what can we do to help you?" Snyder said.
That moment was also the catalyst for advocacy work, including those two treks around Lake Michigan. The walks serve as a chance for Snyder to talk with people about mental health and to raise awareness for Mission 22. It's an organization named after the 22 veterans who lose their lives every day to suicide.
"They work nationwide to help veteran men and women with their suicidal tendencies, depression, anxiety, whatever it is that they need, whether it be professional help, or just some camaraderie or some counseling sessions or even like equine therapy," Snyder said.
"They provide those opportunities for veterans so that they can find the help and healing that they need to work through their challenges."
Snyder's first walk happened in 2019. It took six weeks to walk 810 miles. This year, Snyder walked again and to took him eight weeks to walk 900 miles. He's also participated in shorter walks in between.
PHOTOS: Travis Snyder's military service and journey around Lake Michigan
"Altogether, I have walked 2,240 miles for the sake of veteran mental health and suicide awareness," he said.
The journey isn't always easy. But when things get difficult, Snyder remembers why he's walking.
"Once I took those first steps in Holland, it's like, this is this is it. Mile one out of 900, and you're not stopping. You're not giving up. You're not going to take the ferry back across the lake and just call it quits in Wisconsin," he said.
Snyder hopes his journey will inspire others to take care of themselves whether they did or did not serve.
"Mental health and suicidal tendencies don't know, gender, race, political affiliation. It doesn't matter how much you have or how little you have. It doesn't matter who you are and where you've been. Mental health is important to all of us," he said.
"That's been one of the biggest lessons and reminders that I've received each year that I do this."
If you are dealing with a mental health crisis, you can call 988 in Michigan to access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You will be connected with a trained crisis counselor who can give you the help you need.
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