Through-hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise PTSD awareness
9/11 survivor and volunteer firefighter Rob Weisberg is supporting first responders and veterans and their service animals
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Rob Weisberg was just emerging from the subway as the first plane hit the Twin Towers. Instead of running for safety, he ran to FDNY Ten House. He set up triage and began assisting the injured streaming in from the World Trade Center – right across the street. While he was helping one of those victims, one of the plane’s engines smashed through the station roof, barely missing him.
When the towers collapsed, Weisberg found himself trapped under debris. Still following his first responder instincts, he broke through the back wall of the station and led those inside to safety.
Though Weisberg still suffers health complications from his time at Ground Zero, he hasn’t stopped helping and saving lives. An active member of the Commack Fire Department in New York, he has served as a volunteer firefighter for more than 29 years. And recently, Weisberg decided to take a step – or 2,200 miles of steps – to raise awareness about PTSD by through-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Weisberg suffered with post-traumatic stress from 9/11 in silence for years, until his wife encouraged him to reach out to Paws of War, a nonprofit charitable organization that rescues and trains dogs to be service dogs and provides companion animals to military veterans and first responders. Paws of War provided Weisberg with a service dog named Chip, who helped his healing begin.
Weisberg set out on his journey on March 11, 2023, with the goal of raising PTSD awareness and raising funds to support Paws of War’s PTSD-related work. Hiking along the trail from Georgia to Maine, Weisberg lost over 60 pounds and suffered several falls and injuries, but his determination and desire to help others kept him going.
After 5 months and nearly 2,000 miles on the trail, Weisberg sadly had to end his hike after being sidelined by a knee injury.
In a post to his followers, he wrote,
While I am disappointed that I didn’t complete the trail, I am proud of what I accomplished. The trail was a tool for me to accomplish the following:
1. Be happy
2. Raise awareness about suicide within the veteran, active duty and first responder communities
3. Raise funds for Paws of War
The way I see it, I accomplished all of these goals. I want to thank everybody for their love and support. I am so humbled by what I received!
When I started my hike, I was hoping to get my life to be the way it was before 9/11 and my PTSD. I learned I can’t go back. However, the trail has helped me to manage it better. I am looking forward to getting home to my family. I am sure they will see how the trail has changed me for the better!!!”
Weisberg acknowledged, every day that he walked the trail was a challenge, but living with PTSD for 23 years is a much greater challenge. He told EMS1, "23 years later, people are struggling with the memories from 9/11. My message to anyone struggling is to forget the stigma. If you need help, get it, don’t suffer alone or in silence."
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