FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — A Canadian expatriate and French Foreign Legion veteran stopped in Fort St. John along his 27,000-kilometre march for mental health awareness.
Marcus Jefferson stopped for a couple of days in the Energetic City at the end of August as part of the March of the Warrior.
He started at the Arctic Ocean in April and is planning on reaching all the oceans surrounding Canada before marching back to his hometown of Windsor, Ontario.
Throughout the march, Jefferson aims to have discussions about mental health through his experiences and what worked for him.
“Obviously physical sports, endurance, things like that is what helps me, that’s what pushes me through, clears my mind, gets things going,” Jefferson said.
“It’s a proven fact that physical activity and sports and eating healthy improves your mental health.”
He said the French Foreign Legion is known as the world’s most elite military, renowned for ruck marching.
According to Military.com, a ruck march is “getting your gear from A to B in a backpack.”
The Kepi March to become a Legionnaire is a 60 to 80-kilometre march to be completed in two days, which was the furthest Jefferson had marched prior to his March of the Warrior journey.
He had been ruck march training before he entered the French military and “amped up” his training afterwards in preparation for his trek.
When he hit Fort St. John in August, he had surpassed 3,000 kilometres marched non-stop.
Because of how he is travelling, he said he is technically homeless. He will be staying in a tent for the duration of his journey.
Along the way, he is talking with people about mental health issues. Some of the people he wants to talk to are those without a fixed address.
“In Whitehorse, I walked up, and they were kind of testing me, then they’re like, ‘Hey, got any booze on you?’”Jefferson said.
“And I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t drink anymore, and if I do that, you’re going to see me running around the streets naked.’ I can relate with a lot of these people.”
The veteran will also stop and talk with first responders such as EMS, firefighters and police.
“I’m actually doing it for [the unhoused population,]” Jefferson said.
“I’m trying to bring up the compassion level of the first responders to the people on the streets because I was down and out myself and living through all that stuff as well.”
Jefferson started his journey in Tuktoyuctuk, in the Northwest Territories, where he started the march and learned how to do it on the side of the road. He said it evolved from carrying a backpack to pushing a cart in front of him.
His backpack weighs between 50 to 80 pounds, while the cart he pushes is approximately 150 pounds.
Because he is essentially homeless for the next four years and is now getting to bigger towns, it is getting harder for him to find a place to sleep, and the rules are getting tighter.
“I don’t have money to eat out all the time in restaurants. I got up the other day, and I was making tacos right beside [a restaurant],” Jefferson said.
“I don’t know what I can and can’t do, so it will be a learning process.”
At his lowest, he said he wanted to take his own life and used drugs and alcohol to cope with depression and PTSD, but because of his trust issues stemming from a past of sexual abuse, trauma, neglect and racism, he couldn’t trust anyone.
“I didn’t trust anybody, I didn’t trust doctors, I didn’t trust teachers, I didn’t trust police. I trusted nobody,” Jefferson said.
“I was either drunk or high, trying to figure it out, and when I was finally trying to get the words out, there was that voice saying, ‘Don’t trust this person, they’re going to take your life from you.’”
Due to the lack of trust, he had to figure it out on his own, and he did, so he said he wants to share his journey and success with the world.
“I lived in homeless shelters, and I’ve been everywhere. I’ve seen it all, but I’ve never given up,” Jefferson said.
“I see so many people give up because they adopt that victim mentality.”
He said he’ll talk to people about their problems, whether mental illness, homelessness or addiction and he encourages them to try to improve their situation.
“If you failed, then you tried it, but at least you’re trying something,” Jefferson said.
The veteran is an advocate for mental health, and men’s mental health specifically.
“This is for everyone, the mental health aspect of it, but obviously, I have a male brain, so I speak a lot on behalf of men,” Jefferson said.
A topic he likes to talk about is failure and how society treats a person when they fail.
“I don’t know why we haven’t developed a sense of trying to pick up your friend or somebody and help them out somehow, someway,” Jefferson said.
He said helping someone doesn’t mean just giving them money, it’s also providing them proper help, advice and motivation.
“In the military, if we fall, we reach for a comrade to help us get back up so we can continue to fight. There’s nothing wrong with that in the military, but in society, there’s a problem with it,” Jefferson said.
The veteran said the failures provide life lessons, and people can learn from those mistakes and teach them to their future children.
Though he has left the Energetic City, anyone who wants to help him reach his goals can donate to his GoFundMe to help with his expenses as he marches across Canada for mental health awareness.
Jefferson said any funds not used by the time he completes the march will be donated to a charity, to be announced.