Helping veterans with push-ups
Originally published October 28, 2016
SW Side man bringing awareness to suicide dilemma
By Joan Hadac
William Shehan has a motto he lives by: do what you can, when you can, with what you have on hand.
The Southwest Side resident and Army veteran put his motto into action after he learned from the 22kill.com website that on an average day in the U.S., 22 military veterans commit suicide.
Shehan, who turns 49 on Sunday, also learned about the 22-pushup challenge that is slowly bringing attention to the dilemma.
So doing what he can when he can with what he has on hand, Shehan dropped and gave his first 22.
Nationally, the goal of the #22Pushups campaign is to encourage men, women and children across the nation to get down, get busy and do a combined total of 22 million pushups to raise awareness about suicide among veterans. To date, more than 45 million pushups have been counted, according to the 22kill.com website.
For Shehan, the exercise is not at all abstract. He has a friend whose son committed suicide after coming home from Iraq.
Shehan himself understands what some of those 22 veterans are going through. On a daily basis, he deals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, nerve damage and other health issues, including a traumatic brain injury resulting from a 1990 stateside training accident when his Army Humvee went down a ravine and flipped.
After hospitalization and therapy, Shehan decided moving around made PTSD more bearable. Moving is something Shehan is very familiar with, having done a lot of it while as a boy.
While growing up he called Charleston, S.C. home. His grandparents were missionaries who took first, his mother and then him on their trips. His mother attended school in Edinburgh, leaving her with a Scottish accent. When it was Shehan’s turn, he visited about 10 foreign countries; some in Central and South America, Mexico and Pakistan.
When his grandmother was in her 70s and decided “she couldn’t handle a teen boy,” Shehan attended a boarding school in South Carolina. He was 20 when he enlisted in the Army in 1987.
After being discharged from the Army, Shehan decided to roam. “The way I dealt with PTSD? I didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, none of that. I would go and move from town to town. As soon as I got into a place that people got to know me, got comfortable with me, the more I got uncomfortable, and so I would move.”
He also moved from company to company, always climbing the ladder to success. Shehan acknowledges that while this may have seemed like a positive thing, he was still moving.
Shehan landed in Chicago 15 years ago, the longest he has lived anywhere in his life.
“When I came here, my wife got a hold of me and we got some help at the VA,” he recalled. “I did things just for veterans, and I did a lot of that for a while. I got into chess. I figured if I could control 64 squares on the board, not that I could control them very well, but I could get some control. It allowed me to gain some control over my life.”
He also had support from his wife, Renee, and two daughters, Ava and Mia.
A convert to Buddhism who serves as a lay chaplain at the Jesse Brown VA center on the West Side, Shehan integrates his religious beliefs with the push-up challenge.
“The type of Buddhism I practice is not just about avoiding bad things or being detached from physical things. It’s about getting your ass there and doing something to make the world a better place,” he said, noting that a Marine veteran friend of his has authored a book entitled “Buddhism for Dudes.”
To that end, he has done his push-ups, 22 at a time, in a wide array of places: schools, houses of worship, veterans posts and hospitals, even underpasses with homeless veterans.
While Shehan is not necessarily recommending that every start doing pushups to raise awareness, his advice to every one is simple.
“Do what you can for veterans,” he said. “If you see a homeless vet, help him. Do you have an extra jacket? Give it to him. Collect what you have at home and donate to a local VFW. Learn the symptoms of depression. Don’t assume a vet is just down. Get out there and see if there is something you can do to help.”
Next up for Shehan is to do 8,030 pushups—22 a day for a year. His effort is chronicled online at 8030k.com.
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