Former Marine Justin Kuhel of Clintonville, preparing to embark on a second, even more ambitious trek to raise funds for charities that help fellow veterans, has a very simple motivation for his upcoming "March Across America."
He could just as easily have returned from deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan severely injured or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Kuhel, the son of Clintonville Area Commission District 2 Representative Nancy Kuhel, has pushed back the starting date for his anticipated 120-plus-day walk from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to Camp Pendleton in California by a week, to May 23, in order to make better arrangements for a follow car and accommodations along the route that will take him through, among other states, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas.
To help raise money for the project, which is receiving support from the Rotary Club of Clintonville, Kuhel's mother and his aunt, Regina Prange, co-owner of the soon-to-open Bleu and Fig boutique catering and design store, have organized an event for Saturday, May 17. Chef Brooke Kinsey, the other owner of the store set to open at 4622 N. High St., and Prange will be selling half-pound "Jars for Justin" containing candied bacon, from 9 a.m. to noon with proceeds to go toward the March Across America.
"The candied bacon is like nothing you've ever tasted," Justin Kuhel said. "It really is great."
In addition to the Bleu and Fig fundraiser, there will be a "Walk a Mile with a Marine" event that same day, from 2 to 4 p.m. starting at the Whetstone Park casting pond. Kuhel will discuss his upcoming trek, during which he hopes to raise $100,000 to be donated to the Headstrong Project, which provides free treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and Help Our Military Heroes, which offers accessible vehicles to those injured in service.
Following a question-and-answer session, Kuhel will lead those attending the gathering on a mile-long group walk through the Park of Roses.
"That will be awesome," Kuhel said last week. "It's always a good opportunity to spread the word. And having grown up in Clintonville, the Park of Roses is one of my favorite places."
Kuhel, who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006 and was deployed to Iraq the following year and Afghanistan in 2009, became a paramedic after being honorably discharged in 2010 and plans to become a nurse. He will be following in his mother's footsteps as a student at Mount Carmel School of Nursing.
Nancy Kuhel graduated from the school in 1983.
Classes will be starting later than Justin Kuhel had anticipated, so he said he might not have to strictly adhere to the grueling 120-day schedule for the March Across America, but instead could take a bit longer.
He hopes that people who follow his progress on the website marchacrossamerica.org will come out to join him along his route.
"I really want to get people's stories about what makes them walk with me," he said.
Kuhel, who walked 400 miles from Columbus to Arlington National Cemetery in June 2012, said he has been training in earnest for the 2,700-mile journey between the two Marine Corps bases.
"I've been working on my legs a lot," he said. "I've been doing some running. I walk a lot with my dog. I just put on my pack and walk around the neighborhood. I think more than anything it's going to be a mental challenge.
"There's no turning back now."
In addition to making him an honorary member, Clintonville Rotarians have donated $1,000 to the Walk Across America and challenged other Rotary clubs along Kuhel's route to do the same.
"The Clintonville Rotary has been a huge, huge help," Kuhel said. "Everyone I come in contact with in Clintonville is really excited about it. The Longview Barbershop where I get my hair cut is really pumped about it.
"I certainly couldn't do it without everybody's support."