“The one weekend to run (for physical training tests in the Minnesota Air National Guard) was the one weekend I ran all year,” said the nine-year veteran who is no longer enlisted.
But in October, Wedger will put on his running shoes for 100 miles of pavement, all in the name of raising money and awareness about a subject Governor Tim Walz recently brought attention to: the alarming rate of veteran suicides in Minnesota.
“It’s 100–too many miles to run for me, but 100 veterans a year is just an average that, frankly, we should be talking about,” said Wedger.
He’s hired a trainer to help him get ready to run the ultra-marathon distance in October, where he’ll take off from the Forest Lake American Legion and run north along the U.S. Highway 61 footpath to North Branch, then back south to Forest Lake, where he’ll then run south to Hugo on the same path–and back. He aims to raise money by getting sponsors per mile to benefit Freedom Fishing Foundation, a non-profit in Lino Lakes that takes veterans fishing for one-on-one or group excursions to help them ease the pain they may be feeling from their service.
“It has to be done,” said Ben Elfelt, himself a veteran and president of the foundation. “Suicide in Minnesota–veteran suicide–does not get talked about enough.”
Elfelt said the organization was the brainchild of two combat veterans who noticed how much fishing helped them cope and decompress from their violent experiences. It now takes veterans on trips to lakes in Minnesota and beyond year-round for experiences on the water.
“Fishing is really secondary to what we’re doing,” said Elfelt. “What we’re doing is we’re getting guys and gals out in small groups, intimate atmospheres, one-on-one. All of our guides are veterans. So we can really connect with a lot of these folks in that respect.
Wedger and Elfelt are lifelong friends and the topic of how Caleb could help came up recently. Caleb’s father, himself a veteran, committed suicide when Wedger was 20 years old–right before he began basic training for the Air National Guard.
“My dad got in a really dark place and it was hard to watch and hard to be a part of,” Wedger said. “It’s not a victimless thing. It’s a book that you can’t close and it impacts so many people.”
His goal is to raise $10,000, or $100/mile.
“The nasty thing about suicide isn’t that people think life is so bad they don’t want to live it any more,” said Wedger. “They truly believe the world would be better off without them. I prefer to just do something, just to get outside and inspire and engage in my community and try to be a part of something, just dragging that nasty conversation out into the light.”