A local veteran recently laced up his running shoes and completed the nearly impossible — all to spur conversations and raise awareness of veteran suicide.

Forest Lake native Caleb Wedger served in the Minnesota Air National Guard for nine years. In 2012, he was deployed for six months. He spent half of his time in Kuwait and the other half in Afghanistan. Two weeks before he left for basic training, his father took his own life.

About a year ago, Wedger stumbled across a video on YouTube of Gov. Walz giving a press conference about veteran suicide and the fact that on average, 100 veterans take their lives each year in Minnesota.

“For whatever reason, that really grabbed my heart,” Wedger explained.

At the same time, Wedger was reading a book by David Goggins called “Can’t Hurt Me,” in which Goggins shares his life story and illuminates a path that anyone can take to push past the pain, demolish fear and reach their full potential. Goggins, a veteran, runs ultramarathons for charitable causes.

“That’s where 100 is TOO MANY was born, and I’ve been able to gain support and traction through local communities to pull it off,” Wedger said.

The first Saturday of October is recognized as Veterans Suicide Prevention & Awareness Day in Minnesota. After an opening ceremony at Lakeside Memorial Park in Forest Lake, Wedger began his run north along the trail on Highway 61 to North Branch and then turned around to head back toward Hugo.

It was all in an effort to not only start a conversation about veteran suicide and the importance of mental health, but to raise money for the Freedom Fishing Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help military and veteran families live healthier and more fulfilling lives. That happens through fishing trips.

“The reason I chose them was because I truly believe that they, and organizations like them, are in my opinion doing the hard work of keeping people out of that downward spiral that leads to mental health issues, in a lot of ways (accomplishing that) through connectivity and community,” Wedger explained.

“Our fishing trips connect vets with other vets and with nature. We believe it is important to encourage healthy activity and connection,” said Freedom Fishing Foundation President Ben Enfelt. “Caleb believes that true help for vets will come through building community, and that’s what we’re trying to do … Through putting this event together, we’ve seen so many people step up to make a difference. Raising awareness to veteran suicide was part of the goal for this event and that mission has already been accomplished.”

Wedger has been training since last October. Fun fact — he absolutely loathes running. The longest Wedger has run to date is 18 miles. “This just gave me an excuse to do something crazy,” he said. “I had no idea if I could do it or not. Statistically, and if you talk to the pros, I couldn’t, but this really is the ultimate ‘If you put your mind to it, you can do it.’”

Well, he did it. Wedger completed the 100 miles in 35 hours, 36 minutes and 44 seconds.

In addition to his partnership with the Freedom Fishing Foundation, other organizations rallied behind Wedger: Lino Lakes Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Network, Quad Area Chamber of Commerce, Forest Lake Chamber Area Chamber of Commerce, Hugo Business Association, Lakes Center for Youth & Families and the Forest Lake Legion.

Now, more than ever, Wedger feels this is a conversation that needs to be held. He believes we all have our own unique role to play.

“I’m so grateful for everyone that is helping you spread the word and the message. I think our current environment is exposing a weakness that we all ultimately play a role in fixing. Especially as leaders, we can do way more than we maybe think we can,” he said. “COVID has exposed in a big way that we could all use more connectivity, that these devices that are claiming to bring us together in all of these ways are sending us on a speeding bullet in the opposite direction.”

Wedger’s goal was to raise $100 per mile for a total of $10,000 for Freedom Fishing Foundation.

As of press deadline, Wedger’s efforts had raised over $20,000.

Lead Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or citizennews@presspubs.com.

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