The best way to deal with mental illness, the anguish and despondency it brings sufferers and the grief that overwhelms loved ones is to bring the malady into the open, Ian Cummins said Tuesday.
Cummins, 23, a registered nurse from Pittsburgh, laid out his philosophy Tuesday in Santa Rita Park – four months to the day he left Virginia Beach, Virginia, on foot to find solace and come to terms with the suicide of his brother Ryan, 20, on Nov. 8, 2013.
Two of Ryan’s closest buds, Nick Rodgers, 20, and Jake Lusardi, 20, met Cummins in Sylvia, Kansas, to support his cause.
It’s been all shoe leather, no rides, Cummins said. Pushing a jogging stroller each weighed down with 200 pounds of food, water, clothing and camping gear, they average 25 miles a day.
Before he hooked up with Lusardi and Rodgers, he spent four days in a hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, on antibiotics after an old blister reopened and became infected.
Durango is the end of the adventure for Rodgers, who must return home. After a couple of days rest, he’ll fly from here to Denver, Denver to Pittsburgh.
Cummins and Lusardi will hit Mancos, Cortez, push into Utah, then Nevada where they will veer west to San Francisco.
The adventurers have been impressed with the generosity of strangers. People along the way have put them up for the night about once a week.
In Durango, they will stay with Randal and Barbara McKown and their daughter, Allee. The father and daughter befriended the trio on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass a few days ago, offering them food and a place to stay in Durango.
“We’ve seen more good than bad,” Cummins said. “People see us walking, and they want to know why.”
Cummins was close to his brother.
“As we got older, each had his own interests,” Cummins said. “But once a brother, always a brother. It’s in the heart.
“I’m coping and grieving over the loss of Ryan, and walking as been therapeutic, mind-clearing,” he said. “But it benefits only one person. I hope I can create a ripple effect and get more people talking about mental illness.
“I find that 90 percent of people can relate to mental illness and its consequences,” he said. “When we initiate a conversation about mental illness, you learn you’re not alone.”