Robert Swiderski discusses his upcoming 80-mile walk during a training ruck earlier this month. --Screenshot from a selfie video

Robert Swiderski discusses his upcoming 80-mile walk during a training ruck earlier this month. --Screenshot from a selfie video

A penny for their thoughts

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SW Sider to walk 80 miles to prevent police suicides

By Tim Hadac

For the third year in a row, Southwest Side native Robert Swiderski will walk 80 miles across the city—visiting all Chicago Police Department district stations–to help prevent suicide among law enforcement officers.

This year, the avid runner plans to start once again from his parents’ home near 64th and Narragansett on Wednesday, Sept. 20 and conclude two days later—with a plan to deliver a single cent to each of the roughly 22,000 CPD officers.

The thought-provoking event is kind of along the lines of “a penny for your thoughts”—to encourage police on the front lines to open up more about the stress they face.

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With CPD officers cheering him on, Robert Swiderski approaches the entrance of the Chicago Lawn (8th) District police station in 2021. –Supplied photo

“Conversations matter,” Swiderski said. “Letting officers know they’re not alone also matters.”

In addition to starting off laden with about 120 pounds in pennies, Swiderski plans to deliver a thank-you letter, note or card to every officer.

Those who want to be a part of the effort are asked to write a “Dear Officer” letter, note or card and mail it to Robert Swiderski, P.O. Box 3672, Barrington, IL 60011.

“Suicide is an extremely serious and troubling thing—in the general population and certainly in the Chicago Police Department,” Swiderski said, adding that there are on average 132 suicides across the U.S every day—but 29 times that number of attempts. That figure does not include an even large number of people considering but not yet attempting to kill themselves.

For Swiderski, the numbers are more than statistics. In his mid-20s, he struggled with depression and made an attempt on his own life.

His journey from that dark place back to mental wellbeing was not easy, but one key was acknowledging struggle.

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Robert Swiderski discusses his upcoming 80-mile walk during a training ruck earlier this month. –Screenshot from a selfie video

“Like so many people in my situation, I thought I was alone,” Swiderski said. “That made the struggle so much worse. But then I came to realize that if I reached out for help, my life would change, and it did. I realized that there’s better way to live, and the thing to understand is it’s OK not to be OK.”

What also helped is his devotion to running, widely acknowledged as a tool to clear the mind and help people center themselves mentally. These days, Swiderski runs marathons and even ultra-marathons, often with a charity-driven purpose.

These days, Swiderski works as an organizational development specialist, an emotional intelligence coach who teaches people to be more honest with themselves so they in turn can be more honest with others—making them better employees, better spouses, parents, neighbors and members of society.

His purpose with running for CPD is to drive home the message that it’s OK not to be OK, and to seek help to avoid suicide and become mentally healthy.

“There are 12,000 officers in Chicago Police Department,” Swiderski said. “ I know that so many of them are dealing with the everyday stress of the job, but so much more. They start their shift knowing they could be shot at, they could be shot, they could be killed. I can’t even imagine that kind of stress. Can you?”

What also motivates Swiderski is his personal connection to CPD. His father, Bob Swiderski Sr., wore the badge and retired from CPD after 31 years. His uncles, Ed Swiderski and Al Swiderski, and cousin, Brian Skora, are also retired CPD officers.

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