POTSDAM -- SUNY Potsdam senior Shawn Hatch is returning to campus after spending his summer rollerblading across the country in an effort to raise money for wounded veterans. The criminal justice major became the first person to inline-skate the 3,107-mile journey from New York to California, which took him 66 days.
A Massena native, Hatch has raised $10,250 so far for the Wounded Warrior Project, which honors and empowers severely injured soldiers. In his journey across the country, the 22-year-old student rollerbladed through 12 states and camped in an old recreational vehicle with his father, who came along for the ride.
“Every time I wanted to stop, I would think of the soldiers serving overseas. When I was rollerblading, I was using my legs to the fullest for them. Some of them are losing their legs,” he said. “Our troops fight hard for us without asking for much, and when they fall it’s up to us citizens to stand up and fight for them. That’s how I see it. That’s how I’ve always seen it.”
Averaging 47 miles a day, Hatch wore out one pair of rollerblades and went through more than 30 spare wheels and several rolls of duct tape, which he used to bandage his aching knees in place, on his trip.
The seams in his water pack began to deteriorate from the sweat, and he even had to tape his small American flag in place—streaming behind him from his back.
Despite eating six meals a day, he lost 22 pounds while gaining muscle.
On the journey from New York to Hollywood, Hatch camped out next to dozens of hospitable Elks Lodges and American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Veterans posts with his father, Floyd, in a 1986 Winnebago.
He also met some inspiring people, from soldiers and veterans to friendly passers-by. While in Colorado, Hatch met with members of the Mountain Ute Indian Tribe, and told them about his journey and his Akwesasne friends in the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.
“They told me how their tradition carries them and how supportive they are of soldiers and warriors. They do sun dances for the troops all the time,” Hatch said. “They call themselves the lizard people. When they heard about the Mohawks, they said they call them the fish people.”
A member of the Mountain Ute tribal council asked Hatch to bring one of their traditional painted clay pots to the Akwesasne as a gift from one tribe to another. He will do that soon in a special ceremony.
“It was such an honor,” he said. “One reason I went was to see how kind people could be. Every person I met had a story, and I wanted to experience that.”
The town and village of Massena plan a hero’s welcome for the rollerblading phenom on Saturday, Sept. 11.
To donate to the Wounded Warrior Project through Hatch’s fund, visit www.shawnhatch.com.