Hiking the AT for disabled vets

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GRAY — A disabled veteran hiking the Appalachian Trail is working with his sister to honor and raise funds for other disabled vets.

Norm Jolin, 51, of Gray served in the U.S. Army from 1986 to 1989 in Germany, where he was injured. 

“They don’t know what happened. They think it was from fatigue, but I passed out and fell and hit my head on a grate. I had a pretty good injury on the side of my head. It still bothers me. I have nerve damage on the right side of my head. It causes headaches. They don’t come a whole lot, but when they come, it’s debilitating,” he said. 

Jolin then served in the National Guard from 1989 to 1993. 

In fall 2018, he was working at Fitzgerald Bandsaw Service in Windham and decided he wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, which starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at Mount Katahdin in Maine.

He said his motivation is “really hard to put into words.”

“I’m doing it to learn to trust myself and my own decisions instead of following what everybody else thinks I should be doing,” Jolin said in a phone interview from Tennessee. 

His sister, Aline Love of Rollinsford, New Hampshire, came up with the idea to use the hike to honor disabled veterans. 

“I said, ‘We’ve got to figure out a way to give back,'” Love said. 

The brother and sister have a twofold approach. First, Jolin will be honoring veterans by awarding them virtual miles of the AT. People can sign up online for a certain mile, and once Jolin has physically completed that mile, the veteran will “own” it. 

“Hopefully by the time I get done, the word is spread enough that all 2,200 miles are filled with veterans’ names,” Jolin said. 

Second, Jolin and Love are also fundraising for Disabled American Veterans. Love is focusing on small businesses, which she proposes donate $1 per worker. All money goes directly to DAV, so Jolin and Love collect no profits. 

One dollar per worker, Love said, “is not that big of a hurt to your wallet.” 

However, they have not received as many participants as they had hoped to have at this point. 

“But I’m meeting a lot of fellow veterans on the trail and passing the word along. I signed up a person this morning,” Jolin said. 

“It’s going a little slow, but I’m not giving up.  It’s a little tougher than I had imagined it to be. I’m not getting the response that I initially thought I’d be getting,” Love said. 

Meanwhile, Jolin is enjoying his time on the trail, having completed 344 miles thus far. He began March 29 and anticipates completing the hike in mid-September. 

“I’m doing well. I’m right on pace,” he said, acknowleding that “It’s harder than I thought because you’re on a mountain range and it’s just an uphill and then a downhill and then an uphill and then a downhill on and on and on.” 

While hiking the AT, each hiker is given a trail name. Jolin’s is Seven, and he gave his sister the virtual trail name of Awesome A. 

He encouraged anyone who is able to hike the trail one day. 

“It is amazing. Not knowing exactly where you’re going to end up at the end of the day and just rolling with it — it’s liberating. You get rained on, you get cold. But you put a smile on your face, and you just hike,” he said. 

Love hopes that when her brother finishes, the pair can work on addressing the issue of homelessness in veterans. She acknowledged that homelessess is a pervasive problem, but said “Homeless veterans — that’s shameful. It’s really hard getting your idea out and getting support, but I think veterans in our country are a worthy cause.” 

Anyone who would like to claim a virtual mile of the AT, donate to DAV or check on Jolin’s progress can do so at myusaveteran.org. 

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at jvaughan@keepmecurrent.com. 

Veteran Norm Jolin and his sister Aline Love.

Jolin on a cold windy night while hiking the AT. 

Jolin in North Carolina after completing a 19-mile day. 

Norman Jolin, pictured here on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, says he’s hiking for himself and for other disabled veterans.