Veteran canoeing down Mississippi River to raise awareness of veteran suicide

Updated: Jul. 29, 2020 at 9:53 AM CDT
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - A veteran is canoeing down the Mississippi River to raise awareness of veteran suicide.

Donnie Jokinen started his journey down the Mississippi River on May 8 in Itasca State Park in Minnesota.

He said this journey is for himself to grow as a person, and to raise awareness for the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day.

Jokinen was in the Army National Guard and fought in the Iraq War.

“Everyday is a daily struggle,” he said. “We may be in pain at the house just sitting there doing nothing, so why not be in pain out here actually enjoying mother nature.”

During the trip, they are collecting donations to resupply and keep going, but when he is finished he said he plans on using any leftover funds to help him start his own nonprofit organization that would benefit veterans and Gold Star families.

Jokinen said this journey is physical therapy, mental therapy and a challenge every day.

“Each stroke out there is usually painful,” he said.

He has a degenerative joint disease and was injured during his time in the service, including a traumatic brain injury. Because of that, he suffers from pinched nerves and loss of balance.

Working through his injuries while canoeing can be tough some days. When asked what gets him through, he said, “It’s just who I am. I see the finish line, call it divine inspiration, and I just keep going.”

Taking this journey in the middle of the pandemic has made some things more difficult. Resupplying and refueling has been a challenge in some places, as well as being required to wear a mask in some places.

He said some people have even looked down on them for taking this trip in the middle of the pandemic. He said they aren’t having as many face-to-face encounters along the journey because of COVID-19.

Some days they don’t make it as far as others, and weather has a lot of effect on that. On a really good day they can make 40-60 miles.

He hoped to hit the Gulf by the end of August, which is a little delayed from the original plan. He said the beginning, up in Minnesota, was the roughest leg of the journey, so far, because they started in lakes, which have no current and they faced a lot of headwind.

For more information, he has a Facebook page 22 Stay Alive where he blogs about the trip, posts pictures and updates and is trying to get his nonprofit off the ground.

Most days, his dad is in a kayak alongside him on the water and his mom drives the route. She meets them at their next destination in a camper where they are sleeping during the journey.

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