Walsh University Hosts '22 Pushups' Event To Increase Awareness Of Veteran Suicides

The Canton Repository reported on Walsh University's First '22 Pushups for Veteran Suicide Awareness' Event

See the photos and read the online article by Charita M. Goshay

NORTH CANTON − In conjunction with National Suicide Prevention Week, Walsh University hosted an event on Thursday to bring more attention to the prevalence of suicide among veterans.

Members of the military, and Walsh students, faculty and staff were challenged to do 22 pushups in cadence every hour on the hour in support of suicide prevention for veterans.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 22 veterans take their own lives every day; one suicide every 65 minutes.

The inaugural event was the brainchild of Joshua Ruiz, a Marine veteran and coordinator of Veterans Services at Walsh.

"Mental health is a huge issue in the military," he said. "And I think it's something that isn't addressed enough, and this is just to help the leaders of tomorrow understand that this is something that is part of the world, and we should take the time to be a part of this initiative."

Ruiz, who served eight years in the Marines, said Walsh has about 50 students who are veterans, in addition to faculty and staff. He said his wife, Tiffany, joined the military after graduating from Walsh.

"I'm in charge of enrollment retention and (veteran) recruitment and awareness on campus," he said. "I'm here as a resource to all of our veterans and to anybody who's thinking about any of the services. I want to let them know there's a bigger world out there if you want to explore that world or if you want to get into the VA, especially some of our nursing students who may want to work in the clinics."

Why Walsh University students participated in the 22 pushup challenge

Walsh sophomore Dominic Ajan and junior Q. Morris managed to complete their 22 pushups, with Ajan doing so in a 30-pound weighted vest. Participants who completed their pushups were given their choice of Walsh baseball caps, T-shirts or cups, and treated to a free lunch.

Ajan and Morris said they hadn't given much thought to joining the military before the event.

"I'm not fit enough for it," Morris joked.

Associate professor Phil Pillin brought his entire Theology 101 class to participate.

Pillin, by the way, completed 50 pushups to cheers while wearing the weighted vest.

"This week in class we're talking about the principles of loving your neighbor, and I thought instead of me lecturing about it in a classroom, let's put the principle to work," he said. "It's a good way to learn the concept of suicide prevention and to help others. We want them to be leaders and apply the principles they're learning in class."

Among those lending their support was associate professor James Jerkofsky, a Vietnam War veteran and the school's director of computer science.

"It's fantastic," he said, adding that memories of one's military service never really leave. "It comes back at you at times."

Jerkofsky said he served in the Navy from 1969 to 1973, which included the summer of 1972 in Vietnam as part of what he called the "Blue Water Navy" on the USS Basilone DD-824.

"We guarded planes and did shore bombardments," he said. "We also did several nights in North Vietnamese waters, near Quang Tri."

Silent Watch:Event seeks volunteers to "stand" for veterans

"We never touched land," he said.

Jerkofsky, who joined the Navy rather than wait to be drafted, said he didn't know why more people today aren't engaged in active service.

"I think a lot of people don't want to make the sacrifice, and it is a sacrifice but it's also good training," he said.

Though less than 2% of Americans are enrolled in the military, Jerkofsky said more people seem to be appreciative than in the past.

"You know, I've been thanked more for my service in the last two years than in my previous 50," he said. "Something has changed."

Style Henry: 'This is an easy way to show support'

Style Henry, a graduate student and member of Walsh's track team, easily completed her 22 pushups, and also did some pullups on a bar brought by the Marines.

"This is an easy way to show support to the cause and bring awareness to this very important topic," she said.

The event also drew representatives from the Marines, Army National Guard, Stark County Veterans Service Commission, Pro Football Hall of Fame and Winking Lizard, which served lunch.

"I think it's amazing," said Marine Sgt. Garry Rogers, a recruiter who serves in the Belden Village area. "It's a great way to show appreciation. I also love coming out to colleges and talking to students about their career prospects."

Adriana Lucia Cirese, executive director of the S.A.M. Center (Serving Area Military, Veterans and Widows) in Massillon, came to show her support.

"I think this is fantastic," she said. "Being aware is so important for our community. Twenty-two people a day is just not acceptable. It's staggering."

Cirese said the S.A.M. Center, which is in the process of relocating to Canal Fulton, offers a variety of therapy programs for veterans who may be in need of help, adding that they are sponsoring a veterans' event at the MAPS Museum Oct. 5 and 6.

"It's so important to educate our community and students about the veteran population," she said.

More than 200 people from the Walsh community took part, university spokeswoman Kimberly Graves said.

Walsh President Tim Collins, a retired U.S. Air Force officer who served as a senior officer with command, staff and diplomatic experience, joined students in the afternoon.

Ruiz said that to his knowledge, Walsh is the only school which has hosted such an event.

"I'm here to make sure North Canton, the Stark County community and whole state of Ohio knows that Walsh is here for veterans," he said.