Step by Step: ‘Dutch Forrest Gump’s’ Journey Across America for Men’s Mental Health

The walk is part of the #BraveMenTalk campaign which aims to raise awareness about male mental health globally and raise funds for charities

The walk is part of the #BraveMenTalk campaign which aims to raise awareness about male mental health globally and raise funds for charities. (CREDIT: Anton Nootenboom)

Anton Nootenboom, also known as "The Barefoot Dutchman" on social media, is not your typical record holder. In 2019, he achieved a remarkable feat by completing the 80-mile round-trip hike to Mount Everest Base Camp without wearing any shoes.

Two years later, in 2021, he set a Guinness World Record for the longest barefoot journey by trekking 1,875 miles along the Australian coast. Now, he has set his sights on breaking his own record by embarking on a 3,000-mile barefoot walk from Los Angeles to New York City.

Describing his journey as "crazy," Nootenboom began his expedition on February 17. He humorously likened himself to the character Forrest Gump, as over 30 people joined him for the first mile of his trek in Santa Monica, Calif.

This walk is part of the #BraveMenTalk campaign, in collaboration with Barebarics barefoot shoes, which aims to raise awareness about male mental health globally and raise funds for charities.

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For Nootenboom, who served in the Dutch army for a decade and completed three tours in the Middle East, the journey is symbolic of the silent psychological battles many men face.

"The roads are tough and every day is full of surprises," he explained. "But just like in life, when things get tough, it's never the end. It's just a phase, and eventually, you come out of it."

Nootenboom's determination stems from personal experience. After leaving the army in 2015, he battled depression and contemplated suicide while living in Australia. Raised with the notion of suppressing emotions, seeking help was a significant challenge for him. Eventually, he sought therapy and adopted meditation practices to overcome his struggles.

Anton Nootenboom is aiming to beat his own world record by walking 3,000 miles across America completely barefoot, but there's a larger mission at hand. (CREDIT: Anton Nootenboom)

Nootenboom's story resonates with many men globally. Mental Health America reports that over 6 million men suffer from depression each year, with a majority going untreated. This reluctance to seek help has dire consequences, with suicide rates among men nearly four times higher than among women.

Psychologists attribute this underreporting to societal expectations that discourage men from expressing their emotions openly. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, a psychologist, explains that men often fear being perceived as weak if they discuss their mental health issues. Normalizing conversations around mental health is crucial to breaking these barriers.

Nicholas Balaisis, a psychotherapist, commends Nootenboom for using physical activity as a platform to initiate discussions about mental health. He believes that engaging in activities like long-distance walking can serve as metaphors for overcoming life's challenges and encourage men to explore their emotions more deeply.

Nootenboom's journey across America involves walking barefoot during the day, accompanied by a trolley cart named "Bubba," reminiscent of the character in the film "Forrest Gump." At night, he rests in one of two campers driven by the campaign's producers. He anticipates more people will join him as his journey progresses, likening himself to the fictional character Forrest Gump, who garnered a following during his cross-country run in the movie.

Anton Nootenboom served in the Dutch army for 10 years and did three tours in the Middle East before he realized he was dealing with untreated depression. (CREDIT: Anton Nootenboom)

Despite the physical and mental challenges ahead, Nootenboom remains focused on his goal, inspiring others to persevere through life's obstacles. "It's going to be painful, it's going to be challenging, but at the end of the day, you're one day closer to reaching your target," he said, emphasizing the importance of resilience and determination.

Anton Nootenboom's barefoot journey from Los Angeles to New York City not only aims to break records but also serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of mental health awareness and the strength found in sharing one's struggles. Through his extraordinary expedition, he hopes to inspire others to confront their inner battles and seek help when needed.

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Joshua Shavit
Joshua ShavitScience and Good News Writer
Joshua Shavit is a bright and enthusiastic 17-year-old student with a passion for sharing positive stories that uplift and inspire. With a flair for writing and a deep appreciation for the beauty of human kindness, Joshua has embarked on a journey to spotlight the good news that happens around the world daily. His youthful perspective and genuine interest in spreading positivity make him a promising writer and co-founder at The Brighter Side of News.