The number 22 is pretty significant to Garret Hrynko, a cross-country bicyclist who ended his 108-mile day Monday in Newton.
For starters, the veteran is 22 years old. But that is only half of the equation. Hrynko is riding to try and raise awareness for Mission 22 — an organization calling attention to the fact that every day 22 veterans commit suicide.
“The statistic that 22 veterans a day commit suicide became more than a number to me,” he told The Kansan. “I lost a few guys that I served with to them losing their battle with their demons. The idea became to make this trip mean more, and for it to not be just my selfish reasons but to get the message out.”
Hrynko started his trip across the country by getting on the TransAmerica Trail in Oregon. That was May 19. He boarded his bike, took a look at a bracelet on his left wrist, and started pushing pedals. At the time, he was hoping to finish his ride around July 4 in Yorktown, Virginia.
That timeline is gone, but his ride and the wristband remain. A sliver piece of metal around his wrist that reminds him not only of his service in Afghanistan, but a brother in arms who didn't come home.
“The wristband — I lost my brother (In arms) Gilbert on Sept. 15. It was a Monday. He passed away from a gunshot wound to the abdomen,” Hrynko said, as tears form and he fights them back. “This is his memorial bracelet. I know guys that have two or three of these, which is unfortunate. He has been with me for all of this trip.”
He continues to push the pedals, in memory of his brothers and sisters in arms. He doesn't ask for money, nor is he raising any. For him, this ride isn't about trying to raise funds.
It is about something deeper — about making personal connections along the road and raising awareness of an issue facing the nation.
“The new statistic is 23. It is 22 veterans per day, and one active service member,” Hrynko said. “... Knowledge is power. The more people that know, maybe something can push through. The (Veteran's Administration) reform that just came through, hopefully, that can help with the veteran's mental health crisis.”
His timeline has fallen victim to life — breaking down with multiple flat tires within 24 hours, and finding the mountain passes through the Rockies more difficult and time-consuming than expected. However, he still says cycling across the country is “awesome” and he is determined to finish.
“Part of making the trip for Mission 22 is so I could not give up and quit,” Hrynko said. “I can relate to how when my brothers and sisters are feeling down and alone, going through Kansas has been lonely at points. I can relate that to how my brothers and sisters feel when they get back. When I did the Hoosier Pass (Colorado), it took 5,000 and 11,000 foot climbs. It was digging deep and not quitting. All that is related to Mission 22 and how veterans feel.”
He tries to average about 100 miles per day, and meet as many people as possible as he does so. He rides without a support team on an effort that is completely self-funded and self-sufficient.
His new timeline is to finish in the third week of July.
“This is about making personal connections,” he said. “I have met a lot more veterans than I anticipated.”
He hopes to be an inspiration to others as he rides.
“This whole trip is about me doing something bigger than myself,” Hrynko said. “... Life is way shorter than you think it is. I only did three years in the Army, and it went by like that. I am only 22, but. … Don't be afraid to take a plunge. Don't wait.”