Pushing for change: UT students participate in veteran suicide awareness pushup challenge

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Sep. 10—When University of Toledo student Justin Carper wheeled up on a skateboard near the veterans memorial on the northwest part of campus Friday, he was met with a question through a mini megaphone from Military Services Center coordinator David Seese.

"What do you say, do you want to do 22 pushups?" Mr. Seese asked as a few others looked on.

Mr. Carper, a freshman studying pharmaceutical science, was interested. But he wanted to know more.

"Why 22?" he inquired.

"I'm glad you asked," Mr. Seese replied.

James Tebbe, a work-study student with UT's Military Service Center, who is currently serving for the Ohio National Guard, then explained the meaning behind the 22 Pushup Challenge, a nationwide initiative to bring awareness to veteran suicide.

"On average, there are 22 veterans each day that commit suicide," Mr. Tebbe said. Mr. Carper proceeded to belt out some pushups seamlessly before he skated away.

It was a scenario that similarly played out for many students Friday morning as the university hosted its third annual 22 Pushup Challenge as part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Eric Buetikofer, an Army veteran who is currently the director of the school's military and veterans affairs, said UT jumped on board with the initiative a few years ago after it ramped up nationally.

"The goal is to really get the word out that this is an issue," Mr. Buetikofer said. "We really want people to go out and if they have a veteran in their family, or if they're related to a veteran, just make sure you're talking to them and asking questions and stuff. I know that there's a lot of triggers out there, like recently in the news with the pullout of Afghanistan, there are a lot of veterans having a hard time with that.

"And so, we just want to make sure people are getting out there and raising awareness, and just talking to folks," he continued. "That's the best way to combat suicide."

Military veterans are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the average American. Female veterans are 2.2 times more likely. It's a disparity that really resonated with students who stopped by the pushup challenge event Friday. For some, it hit close to home.

"I had some friends when I was active duty, commit suicide," said Kenneth Cooper, a sophomore from Clinton, Mich. "So I wanted to come out and show my support. It's something that hits home for everybody who's been in the military. You want to pass on the knowledge to other people."

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2019 alone, there were more than 1 million suicide attempts across the country.

Some students like Jenny Bohurjak, were unaware of Friday's pushup event when they stopped by. But after hearing its meaning, they quickly jumped on board in solidarity.

"I've had a few friends with depression who've thought about committing suicide before, so it's really important to me to raise awareness," she said after completing the pushup challenge.

"It's for a good cause," she added.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) and the Ohio Crisis Text Line keyword '4HOPE' to 741 741.

First Published September 10, 2021, 4:55pm

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