A Stirling University student walked from Stirling City Centre to the St. Andrews Pier in solidarity for suicide awareness month.
Ethan Polatajko, 20, walked 94.88k on his own over the course of three days to raise awareness for suicide prevention.
After losing his best friend Johnny of nine years to suicide in 2021, he made it his mission to walk for suicide awareness every year, with last year’s walk to Motherwell, where he is from.
Undergoing the CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) ‘Lost Hours Walk’, he walked as the time rolled back on October 29, taking a step forward against suicide.
After campaigning for weeks through social media fundraising, Polatajko raised a total of £4,134 for the CALM charity, reaching second on the fundraising leaderboard.
His journey started on October 26th at 6:01 a.m. and ended October 28th at 3:11 p.m.
Polatajko chose the pier as it was one of his favourite places to see in St. Andrews, making it the perfect location to end his long walk.
“The charity I walked for, CALM, provides life-saving causes for people in need, so I was hoping that the money that I would raise through this would help be there for people in emergencies if they are having suicidal thoughts– which my best friend did not have the opportunity to.
“I thought St. Andrews would be a good final destination for my walk because I have always wanted to reach it by foot, and it’s a big achievement to do so. I was able to see and stay with some of my family along the way as well, and my sister actually lives in St. Andrews, so that was another reason for going.”
Polatajko planned this walk weeks beforehand, making sure he would safely arrive in St. Andrews. On day one, he walked from Stirling to Kinross for just about 40km, the following day from Kinross to Springfield, where his family lives, for about 34km, and on day three he finally walked from Springfield to St. Andrews in 22km.
He continues: “At the start of my walk I was feeling great and I was excited to walk again, but it was around 20km into it when my legs started aching. I could see through my map and the road signs that Kinross was nearby which kept me going; but I was about half a mile out of Kinross when physically it became very painful from the amount of walking that I was doing.
“The similar thing happened on days two and three, where I’d start feeling great and then as I slowly started to reach each end-point I started to get really sore once again.
“I have really started to appreciate physical pain more in this walk. I am honoured to actually be able to feel that pain when some people are unable feel that pain again.
“The pain I felt during my walk is probably not even close to that of people who are potentially arguing with the voices in their head and those who are hurting themselves, and they can’t feel that pain again because they are no longer here. That was one of the biggest things that I realised on this walk and made it so much more important to me.”
Aside from the physical aspect, Polatajko opened up on the mental side of the walk: “Mentally I was always in it; I never had that thought of wanting to give up.
“I always wanted to reach the goal and made sure I did what I had to do for those that donated. I was just really thankful that I was able to finish it in the time that I had planned on getting it done in.
“Before everything happened with my friend, I knew mental health was a big topic and I had suffered through quite a bit of mental health struggles myself, but I had never properly looked into charities that help in these situations.
“As soon as something does happen to you, your perspective on everything shifts immensely. If people were to say that these charities are only taking money from donors and are not using it towards helping mental health, or they don’t believe that it’s an important cause to donate to, they do not really understand the significance of how much one call can help someone when they need a chat for anything.
“I’d love for people to start advocating for mental health more. It is one of those things where you can ask for days off from your employer because you have the flu, but you can’t as easily say that you’re sad or struggling with your mental health more that day. They will most likely still make you come in as it is not seen as an illness, when it actually is and it can really affect your life.
“I think next year I would like to expand my walk to more people to try and raise as much funds as possible.
“I would also like to do something for Movember, like taking part in the walking or running 60k in the month. I would like to try and raise funds for the Movember cause and still try to advocate for men’s mental health and suicide awareness.
“If I can help anyone who’s doing Movember and try to raise donations with them I would absolutely do it because men’s mental health is something that is very overlooked. People say ‘man up’ or ‘don’t be a wuss’, when they might show signs of opening up about their mental health.
“It is massively overlooked in society, which shows in the global men’s suicide rates being much higher. The stereotypes that men have to provide for the family, or have to do gruelling work, and shouldn’t be crying or unloading their emotions, need to be put aside because everyone’s mental health is important regardless. That’s why Movember is a very helpful and important awareness month.
“I did the ‘Lost Hours Walk’ last year as well on October 29th, when I walked from the Stirling University campus to Motherwell where I have my family home. It took me about 10 hours to complete the 48km, which at the time was very tough.
“I raised just over £800, so the leap from £800 to just over £4k was incredible.
“I’m planning on doing the ‘Lost Hours Walk’ again next year. I was hoping to walk from Stirling city centre to Carlisle, where Johnny’s sister lives.
“The distance is double of what I have done this year so it will definitely be tough, but I am going to be very up for it and hopefully again be able to raise more funds for this cause.”
You can learn more about their mission and donate to CALM through their website.
Ethan Polatajko has his own donation link which can be found here.
If you would like to participate in the Movember cause, you can find their donation page here.
Featured image and article image credits: Selfie by Ethan Polatajko