BRIDGEPORT -- Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum is on the most difficult mission of his life, braving blistering heat, bone-numbing cold, rain, hail and illness as he walks 7,000 miles through dozens of states to raise more than $1 million for veterans in need.
On Wednesday, under glowering thunderclouds, he strolled into downtown Bridgeport while in the 14th month of his trek for a brief ceremony with Mayor Bill Finch and a score of veterans at the city's war memorials at the corner of Broad and State streets.
"As I approached New York City, I had only raised $200,000, and that was after walking 13 months and 6,400 miles," he said, noting that his initial goal was $5 million. "But with just that money that we had raised, we have helped more than 50 military families from losing their homes."
But the fundraising picked up considerably after his swing through New York. Model's Sporting Goods, U.S. Polo and a raft of other sponsors pledged to help out Yocum by publicizing the walk on their websites and in their retail outlets.
"I now expect that we'll raise about $1.5 million by the finish line, and since New York, we've been able to help one military family every day," he said.
The most difficult stretch, he said, was through Aspen, Colo., and it wasn't because of the 12,000-foot altitude.
"I had to take a breather for almost three weeks after I had kidney stones," he said. "I had to check into the Aspen Valley Hospital. They hooked me up to dialysis because my kidneys were shutting down. I passed the stone about an hour before surgery."
He said he's worn through eight pairs of shoes, and he's had more than his share of foot and ankle problems. He's also had to give up the drum he was carrying because it was hurting his neck; his website is drumhike.com.
There were also issues with food. "At least up here in the Northeast, the food is a lot healthier," he said. "Through the South and the West, about all I had was fast food and fried food."
Yocum began his trek last year on April 17 in Louisville, Ky. He usually covers about 20 to 25 miles per day, and his circuitous route so far has taken him through Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, visiting cities large and small.
"The most I did in one day was 37 miles," he said, adding that he's had to pick up the pace since New York. Lately he's been walking about 30 miles per day.
He's been in Connecticut since Monday, passing through Darien and Stamford. On Thursday, he'll be off to New Haven; other cities in the Nutmeg State he'll visit will be Madison and New London, before walking to Westerly, R.I., on June 28.
"You can meet up with me on Route 1, but if you want to talk, you'll have to walk," he said.
He met his wife, Mareike, in Germany during a visit there. She was his tour guide. "It's not easy, but it's all worth it," she said of her support work. "I met a friend yesterday. She lost her boyfriend in Afghanistan, so we have to do all we can for these families."
The walk will terminate at the Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville on Sept. 3. Next year, he plans to continue the effort with a series of shorter walks in and around cities from coast to coast.
To make a tax-deductible donation, visit drumhike.com.
You can reach John Burgeson at 203-330-6403 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow twitter.com/johnburgeson.