Walking with purpose: Ohio man crosses state to raise awareness, funds for mental health
Ethan Harrer is walking with purpose – all the way from Cincinnati to Cleveland.
Harrer, 20, of Massillon, is raising awareness and funds for mental health. Within three days, he’d met his goal of $2,500 – meant to represent the roughly 250-mile trip he’s making. Now, he's hoping to raise even more money.
On Tuesday, day nine of his trip, Harrer walked from London to Columbus. Heading east along Highway 40 in West Jefferson, near Galloway, Harrer said he had already hit seven miles that day. He had another 14 miles to go to reach his Columbus hotel.
Harrer’s 21-day trip is raising funds for Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit that advocates for prevention of violence in schools, communities, and homes. Harrer said that Sandy Hook Promise has tip lines to report people who appear to be struggling with their mental health or are being bullied.
“And without them, I wouldn't – I wouldn't probably be here,” Harrer said.
Harrer said the walk, however, is about more than just supporting the nonprofit. When he was struggling with his mental health, walking helped him feel free and provided hope.
“It's even ingrained in our culture, you know, like, take a walk around the block. Walk it off. Think about it. Go take a walk, you know?” Harrer said. “And that's exactly what I did.”
Of course, taking a walk to clear your head and walking across the state are very different. On his longest day, Harrer will walk 23 miles. He carries a backpack filled with clothes, snacks, charging cords for his electronics and a myriad of foot care products. Usually, it weighs between 25 and 30 pounds.
It can be exhausting, he said. He specifically recalled day three, when his feet were very blistered before calluses formed. He said it was the closest he came to giving up.
“You’re thinking about giving up and you're in the middle of nowhere. What else are you going to do? You know, there's no other thing you can do except continue walking the way you're supposed to go,” Harrer said.
He has been going it alone.
“There hasn't really been a Forrest Gump moment where anybody kind of followed behind me and said, you know what you're doing. I want to follow you and your wisdom,” he joked.
Still, Harrer said people have been supportive of his endeavor, with some hotels and restaurants even giving him discounts after finding out his goal.
He said he has felt safe traveling Ohio roads.
"Walking like this, there's so many people that are just peaceful, are chill,” Harrer said. “You know, there's been a couple interesting characters, but nothing where I felt, you know, threatened."
“It's even ingrained in our culture, you know, like, take a walk around the block. Walk it off. Think about it. Go take a walk, you know? And that's exactly what I did.”Ethan Harrer
Harrer is an ambassador for Truth Initiative, a nonprofit focused on eliminating tobacco and nicotine addiction. The nonprofit is supporting his trip with its budget for advocacy programs, covering the cost of hotels, Harrer said. All of the funds he raises will go directly to Sandy Hook Promise, which is not affiliated with Truth Initiative.
Harrer called the experience so far “surreal.”
“I feel a little bit spoiled doing this,” Harrer said. “I told my mom yesterday, I'm like, I kind of feel like Ferris Bueller. I don't know how I'm getting away with this.”
Harrer rested in Columbus for one day before hitting the pavement again on Thursday, headed for New Albany. He will be walking until June 4, when he is scheduled to make the last leg of his trip from Strongsville to Cleveland.