David Roth is embarking on the journey of a lifetime.
The 22-year veteran of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is preparing to walk from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to San Francisco to raise awareness and funds for military families and children dealing with death, deployment and loss.
Roth, who serves as chairman of the board for Helping Hands for Freedom, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, hopes next year’s Route for the Brave will raise enough funds to build a retreat house for military personnel and families in need of a getaway.
His walk, which will travel along U.S. 40 through Hancock County, will begin April 28 in Atlantic City. After walking 2,323.51 miles (36 hours by car) to Salt Lake City, Roth will take U.S. 50 west 737 miles through Reno, Nevada, and Sacramento to San Francisco (11.5 hours by car).
In all, Roth will walk about 3,000 miles through 14 states. He hopes to be done Aug. 26, 2016.
Bob Workman, who works at the Hancock County Veterans Service Office, said the nation as a whole needs to continually remember how they got their freedom and who fought for it.
Roth’s quest is one way to help jar people from their everyday lives and take a moment to reflect on those who have served and are serving in the military.
“If it does anything to help veterans, we’re all of for that,” he said. “That’s a great thing he’s (Roth) doing, personally taking the time to do it and get the publicity out there.
“Having a home for veterans to come home to is really important. A lot of these people come back and they’re lost. They don’t know where to turn, where to go or who to talk to. ... If (people) could meet with their fellow veterans it would really help.”
The idea for the walk hit home when Roth learned his stepson, Matt Coleman, was being deployed for a fifth time.
“Nothing breaks your heart more than trying to reintroduce children and their parents when they come back from being deployed,” Roth said.
“I am 40-something and in the grind of my life. There is a desire and a push to do one big adventure, and what better way than to do this.”
A good friend of Roth’s is a Vietnam War veteran, which gave him firsthand knowledge of what military families go through once their loved ones return home.
“Knowing some of the things he and his family had to deal with after combat and coming home really highlighted a need for me,” Roth said. “The more veterans I came in contact with, the more I felt an empathetic mind for them.
“This is a volunteer workforce who puts themselves in harm’s way every day.”
Paul Gable, communications director for Route for the Brave, said Roth is one to stick to his word.
“I don’t know if there’s any good candidate to walk across America,” Gable said. “He’s a guy, when he has a goal in mind, he’s going to do whatever it takes to reach that goal.”
Gable added that the Route for the Brave is an opportunity for individuals to thank and help those who serve.
“If we’re not here to better the life of someone else then I’m not quite certain why we’re put on this earth,” he said. “Every day, 22 veterans come back and take their own life. We do a great job of clapping and thanking them, but it really takes five years for the soldier to come back home. This is an opportunity to help those who risk life and limbs, so that we can wake up everyday and enjoy the life we do.”
No plan is considered official without a test run first. Roth did just that on Aug. 15 when he began his “test walk” in Richmond. However, the 144-mile journey to Terre Haute did not begin as planned.
A little after 5 a.m. that Saturday, Roth was walking out of his hotel room and into the parking lot. While posting to Twitter, Roth stepped in a hole and aggravated a previous injury.
“I sprained my ankle again,” he said. “There I am on the ground, 50 feet from the Holiday Express.”
Like Gable mentioned, Roth is not one to give up. He thought of all the families who would benefit from this cause.
“I told myself that I was starting a mission and a bunch of people are engaging with me,” Roth said. “I can’t stop. At the end of Wayne County, I’ll be honest, there were a few tears. There was nothing that was going to stop me.”
After icing his swollen ankle several times, Roth made it to Terre Haute at 12:45 p.m. Aug. 19. The test run helped Roth and his crew determine the best number of miles to walk each day, which will be 28 to 29.
“I can tell you that the David Roth that left Richmond at 5 a.m. is different from the one who arrived on Wednesday afternoon (in Terre Haute),” Roth said.
He did not begin this journey in the most ideal shape, either. As an officer with IMPD, Roth said meals fit in where they can. Constant movement between cases and duties doesn’t allow for the healthiest diet.
In November 2014, Roth weighed 282 pounds. Monday morning, he weighed in at 243.
“I have a much healthier attitude on life,” Roth said. “I’m gaining a lot from this. This is nothing in comparison to what these soldiers are doing.”
Helping whip Roth into shape is former heavyweight champion Lamon Brewster, who lives in Indianapolis. Roth said he never would have the opportunity to train with Brewster had the idea for the walk never sprouted.
“He said, ‘If you can box nine or 10 rounds with me, you can walk across America,’” said Roth, who has been working out five days a week.
A chiropractor Roth knows has let him use some secrets the “big boys” use, too.
“I have Chris Lytle (retired UFC fighter) going into the hyperbaric chamber before I do,” he said. “It gives your body oxygen and pressure to recover.”
Although Roth has been physically training, nothing can prepare him for the mental battle he will face. Gable said anyone can get out and walk, but can they do it on Day 29?
“When you embark on something like this, it’s more mental than anything,” Gable said. “Can you do it on day 29 when you enter a new state with the sun beating down on you?”
Roth and Gable both receive calls every day from people supporting the cause. Roth will not walk alone, either, as many people have agreed to walk chunks of the route with him.
“When you look around and you’re not by yourself, but with a team, I think it’s crucial,” Gable said.
FEET DON’T FAIL HIM
WHAT: Indianapolis native David Roth, a 42-year Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department member
WHAT: The Route for the Brave walk will take Roth approximately 3,000 miles from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to San Francisco.
WHEN: Roth will begin his journey April 28, 2016, in Atlantic City.
WHERE: Roth will take U.S. 40, one of the nation’s oldest highways, beginning in Atlantic City traveling through Hancock County all the way to Salt Lake City.
From there, he will take U.S. 50 to San Francisco.
WHY: Roth’s Route for the Brave, in conjunction with Helping Hands for Freedom, a nonprofit, will raise funds for a retreat house for veterans and families returning from deployment.