Fort Plain High School students and staff performed 75,776 push ups over 22 consecutive school days, completing their 22Challenge to raise awareness of veteran suicide on Nov. 10, 2021, with VFW Commander Tom Ellwood on the gym floor leading the push-up count.
Fort Plain VFW Commander Ellwood and Jr. Vice Commander Laurence Maynard visited with students in their physical education classes the day before Veterans Day for the culmination of their challenge. Twenty-two veterans die by suicide each day, thus the name 22Challenge.
Commanders Ellwood and Maynard talked to the students about the stresses on veterans, including PTSD, that can lead to suicide, and shared their own experiences in the military and as veterans. Both have lost fellow service members and veterans to suicide and are close to individuals currently struggling with PTSD. They told the students that their actions were meaningful.
“Your participation in the 22Challenge made a difference,” Ellwood told the students. “You put a smile on the faces of veterans who are dealing with PTSD.”
“I’ve lost a lot of friends to suicide and it’s not a good thing,” Maynard said.
Ellwood and Maynard also engaged the students, most of whom have service members in their families, in a conversation about opportunities in the armed forces. Maynard shared that he’s been “all over the U.S. and around the world” with the military, visiting different places and learning about different cultures.
At the end of their class period, the students were given red silk poppies by the VFW commanders in honor of fallen veterans.
Fort Plain Physical Education teachers Casey Russom and Allie Swing, along with social studies teacher Brad Niles and art teacher Geoff Snyder, led all of the school’s 7-12th grade students through the 22Challenge during October and November, and Commander Ellwood sent the students inspiring daily video clips.
“Our veterans really appreciated your participation,” Ellwood told the students and their teachers. “Hopefully we are turning the corner on veteran suicide. Thank you.”