CINCINNATI (FOX19) - An estimated 54 million people suffer from mental illness in America. Some of those people silently suffer while others are speaking out hoping to change the stigma.
A Cincinnati man is taking that to the extreme this summer.
The distance from Pittsburgh, Penn. to Cairo, Ill. - 981 miles. Joe Solomon is nearly halfway through his journey to kayak the entire distance to help raise awareness for a disease he fights every day.
Solomon fights choppy waters, high wake from boaters, and headwinds while kayaking the distance of the Ohio River, but fighting the water and weather is nothing compared to the battle he has been fighting for the past seven years.
“I’m kind of out spreading the message to others as well that if they are stricken with mental health disorder, they’re not alone,” he said.
Solomon spent several weeks in a catatonic state after having a bad reaction to anesthesia in 2012.
Since then, he became disabled and has tried to rediscover himself. He now volunteers with AmeriCorps.
He’s taking a break from AmeriCorps for a couple of months to complete this adventure for a good cause.
“Meeting people along the river,” said Solomon, “I’ve been able to make a lot of good friends, and I’ll remember these people for the rest of my life."
Solomon is raising money for two organizations near to his heart. He spent the past 11 months working with Santa Maria Community Services helping with their youth programs in Lower Price Hill.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also helped him when he was in a dark place.
Since Aug. 1, after paddling for 12-13 hours, Solomon finds somewhere to sleep. Sometimes ‘River Angels,' as he calls them, will offer to help with food or a place to rest. Other times he’s on his own.
With each mile, hour and paddle, he hopes to make a difference for those in the same boat.
“I’d just like them to know that they’re not alone and that there is somebody out here that’s representing them," said Solomon. "And if they could build the courage to get help for their mental condition, they could possibly live a lot better life.”
Solomon will continue his trek about 60 miles north of Cincinnati Saturday. He should paddle into Cincinnati on Monday.
Solomon hopes to complete his journey at the end of September when he reaches Cario, Illinois.
If you would like to donate, you can follow this link.