Alaskan treks on Yukon for suicide prevention

Athabascan man's walk inspires people to discuss taboo topic.

Associated PressMarch 15, 2012 

FAIRBANKS -- A Native man whose son committed suicide is continuing his suicide prevention walk on the frozen Yukon River in Interior Alaska.

Vernon Stickman Sr., who is Athabascan, started his pilgrimage promoting healthy lifestyles and suicide prevention a week ago in Tanana. He is supported by his cousin, Chris Grant, on snowmachine, pulling camping gear and provisions for his trek.

Stickman and his wife, Arla, lost their 22-year-old son, Corey, to suicide in September 2010 and have been dealing with the pain and grief ever since. They were welcomed Tuesday afternoon by people living in the Yukon River town of Ruby, many of whom are relatives. Stickman then was headed to Galena, 55 miles away, according to Fairbanks Daily News-Miner .

Word of his trek spread quickly and it is opening people's minds and hearts to talk about suicide -- traditionally a taboo subject.

"People are forgiving their loved ones for the pain and trauma they put on them," said Faith Peters, a counselor in Tanana. "It takes forgiveness to move forward in the healing process."

After departing Tanana on March 8, Stickman walked and ran 22 miles the first day and 23 miles the second day. But on the third day he awoke to 32-below-zero temperatures and put on some new high-top running shoes that rubbed his left ankle raw, which aggravated an old running injury.

In Ruby he rested, iced and elevated the leg whenever possible.

Stickman said his cousin's help on the trail has been invaluable. In Ruby, Grant kept busy greasing up Stickman's 1999 Skidoo Skandic 500 long track snowmachine and changing the chain oil.

Stickman was initially hesitant about doing the run and bringing up the subject of suicide. Now that he is in the midst of it, he said, "even people who have lost loved ones to suicide seem happy that we are doing this."

Arla Stickman said people want to start talking about suicide and try to help one another in order to keep others from killing themselves.

"Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who knows how hard the pain is," she said. "And then, in Ruby, I talked to other women who lost our children to suicide and how hurt we were, and how we are healing a little bit at a time and how the Lord is helping us. It was really nice to talk to them."

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