Jesse James (left) and Barry Stewart have been taking part in the 22 Push Ups for 22 Days challenge

Pushing up awareness of front line crews’ PTSD

A comment to a friend got Dogwood Valley's Jesse James involved in an exercise challenge that is working its way across the country.

Dogwood Valley resident Jesse James may be more cautious with his compliments in the future. A recent comment to a friend got James involved in a daily exercise challenge that is working its way across the country this fall.

“I bumped into my buddy, Michael LeBourdois in September and I made a comment about his fitness and I swiftly got added to his list.”

LeBourdois was involved in the 22 Push Ups for 22 Days challenge, in recognition of military veterans and first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The number 22 comes from American data that found an average 22 veterans per day, taking their own lives. The goal is to get that to zero, with better awareness and treatment of the illness.

LeBourdois invited James, via Facebook, to join the movement and James started on Sept. 30, making a video of each day’s workout. He stated the reason for what he was about to do, then he got down and did his 22… sometimes 23 if he lost count. Each day, a new friend would be invited to join.

“That first day was after I had played two games of hockey, so I was shaking as I got to the end of my 22,” recalled the band administrator for the Shxw’ōwhámel (“Sho-HAM-el”) First Nation.

James’ first and last 22 were done in a hockey dressing room. He really went to town on other days. “I was trying to do it in different locations and get some attention for the cause,” he said.

Many were out in nature, such as at Lady Franklin Rock in the Fraser Canyon — but there were three favourites, according to the number of “likes” he got on Facebook.

On day 15, he had some spare time while waiting for a connection at Calgary Airport, so he gave his cellphone to a co-worker, Alfred James (no relation) and did his pushups on the moving sidewalk. The pressure was on, he said, as he didn’t want to get his fingers caught in the metal teeth at the end of the ride. At pushup 16, Facebookers can see him quickly look to check his distance. He had plenty to spare.

“Alfred was laughing away and I was getting some looks from some people,” said James.

Day 21 saw James do his 22 at night in front of the “Experience Hope” sign at exit 170.

The most outlandish video was on Day 18, while shopping at Walmart in Chilliwack. James donned a hot dog costume and did his pushups while his 13-year-old daughter, Nicola filmed the event.

“Nicola had fun with it,” said James. “It’s pretty hard to embarrass her.”

After day 22, James said he quit the daily pushups cold turkey, though a recent birthday has motivated him to kick-start a regular fitness regimen.

Despite his daily pushup invitations, he said only about six accepted the challenge — one of them being myself.

When I first saw James post his video, I wondered if I could even do 22 pushups. I’m active with cardio sports but have never been much into upper-body work, other than projects around the home. I tried doing 11 pushups and found it doable. Then I did 11 more shortly after. Next day, I eked out 22 in one go, surprising myself.

On James’ day 3, I responded, “Keep me in mind, Jesse. (I know you’ll be running out of friends real soon, LOL!)” Next day, I was doing 22 for the cause.

Part of my motivation was from my connection to the ambulance service. Long-time residents of Hope might recall that from 1980 to 1993, I was a part-time paramedic at the BC Ambulance Service’s Hope station, working on weekends and holidays.

I’d pack a pager or wait at the station, rarely knowing what the next call would be. Many were cancelled calls or benign inter-hospital transfers. Others were spectacular dramas, with incredibly fortunate outcomes. And yes, there were a handful of deeply tragic situations, which still come to mind 30 years later when I pass by certain locations or simply let my mind wander there.

I’ve only got so many corners of my mind for tucking away those memories. I can’t imagine where career veterans, first-responders and emergency room staff park their hundreds of traumatic incidents.

And so I do my 22.

I do my 22 for Carol Schlamp, a part-timer like myself who was killed in 1993 in an ambulance crash on her way back to the Hope station, after a long day away from her young family.

And I do my 22 for the hundreds of unnamed Canadian veterans and first responders who have taken their lives because of PTSD — or are suffering from it.

If you’d like to take part in the 22 for 22 challenge, the floor is yours. If you’d like to donate $22 or more to Wounded Warriors Canada, visit http://woundedwarriors.ca/ways-to-give/22-push-ups/.

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