Stephany Leonard wants to prevent more military families from suffering the tragic effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. On April 29, 2014, Jesse Meredith, Leonard’s former husband and father of her two young children, took his own life.
To honor his memory and raise money and awareness for veterans facing similar struggles, Leonard — who also served in the National Guard — founded the Jesse Meredith Memorial Run and Soldier Shuffle. The second annual event will be held Sunday, April 28 at Valparaiso’s Sunset Hill Farm County Park.
At the time of his death, Meredith had recently learned that he did not qualify for disability from the Veterans Administration despite his service in Iraq with the Army National Guard. His deployment included a live-fire artillery event where he witnessed the death of fellow soldiers.
“After returning home, he would wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat,” Leonard says. “Jesse didn’t want to be around or think about those memories. He avoided talking about what happened. As his avoidance took hold, it became the engine of his PTSD.”
Last year, the inaugural Jesse Meredith Memorial Run and Soldier Shuffle raised $12,000. Proceeds benefit the military organizations USA Cares and Women in Bloom.
“This run is very important to me, bringing awareness to PTSD and how it affects our soldiers and their families,” says Leonard, Teachers Credit Union’s Valparaiso Service Center Manager. “I’m very passionate about helping others avoid losing a loved one as well. This race raises funds to support our veterans, helping them get the medical treatment and support they need coming back to civilian life.”
While volunteering with TCU colleagues at a 2017 Habitat for Humanity event, Leonard learned for the first time about local resources that could have helped her family deal with the issues that troubled him after his deployment.
“For too long, I second-guessed myself, believing that others would think it was my fault or that we had a problematic marriage,” Leonard says. “But I came to see that we didn’t elect to have PTSD enter our marriage and that we weren’t alone in having these symptoms. In a safe, therapeutic environment, over time, I believe we could have found the tools and resources needed to help manage it.”
Jesse Meredith Memorial Run and Soldier Shuffle exists to ensure that veterans and their families facing similar challenges have access to the help they need.
Sunday’s event at Sunset Hill Farm County Park, 775 N. Meridian Road, Valparaiso begins with a half-mile kiddie race at 8:45 am. The main 5K race and 50-mile motorcycle run start at 9 am. Corporate and family teams are welcome. Those running to honor a solider are encouraged to send a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org for a memorial tribute.
To register or for more information about the Jesse Meredith Memorial Run and Soldier Shuffle, visit http://bit.ly/Jesse-Meredith-Memorial-Run-April-28.
Race packet pick-up will occur at the TCU Valparaiso North Service Center, 2600 Roosevelt Road, from 1-5 pm on Friday, April 26.
On Saturday, April 27, a pre-race pasta dinner will be held from 5-8 pm at the VFW Post 2511, 1290 Wagner Road, Porter. Tickets are $10 for adults $5 for kids and may be purchased at VFW Post 2511 or TCU’s Valparaiso Service Centers.
On-site race-day registration is also available beginning at 7:45 am.