Former Dallas Stars player Stephen Johns is rolling across America, taking his time and having the time of his life.
A month ago he announced his retirement at age 29, battling chronic pain caused by a head injury he suffered on the ice three years ago. Depression followed and resurfaced after the retirement announcement, but then an epiphany.
"Was sitting at my house, pretty much drinking my life away and was in a dark spot one night. I came across a video that inspired me and said, ‘This is what I want to do and I'm going to do it,’" Johns told FOX4’s Mike Doocy while skating on a back road in Indiana. "We're just on these back roads, so we're not doing any interstates or any highways or anything, like speed limits under 35."
The video that inspired him was from Mike Posner and Naughty Boy, the music video for ‘Live Before I Die.’ It showed Posner walking across the U.S. Before long, Johns hit the road from his home in Pennsylvania. He hopes to get all the way to the West Coast, roller blading on America's back roads.
His social media feeds hashtag mental miles, serving as a kind of travel log. He’s returned to his alma mater at Notre Dame, flipped into Chicago's Lake Michigan, all the while trying to raise awareness about mental illness.
Johns continues to hear from many people facing the same types of struggles he has endured.
"Range of every type of person coming to my messages and tell me about, you know, how much my stories help them, just almost like a day to day basis," Johns said. "So just kind of like getting that feedback every day -- how impactful this is already. And I don't know, we're just excited to see where it's going to go. And like we said from the beginning, like even if nothing comes out of it, at least we get to see the country in a different way. And I have a great road trip out of it."
Johns has help on the trip. Former Stars staffer Jeff Totes is following behind in a pickup truck offering support. And support is what this journey is all about. Johns is trying to support those struggling with mental illness.
"Talk, be honest, be open," he said when asked if he had any advice. "You know, life is way too short to be sad all the time. And we only get one crack at this thing and might as well make the most of it, right? I was just sick of sitting around feeling sorry for myself and just wasting my life away."