By Johnny Jackson
Rachel Milano sat at the table, slowly sipping on an Irish soup and creamed corn offered to her by Madeline Eddy.
Eddy, a server at the Irish Bred Pub in McDonough, met Milano a day or two earlier on a crusade to bring forth awareness of child abuse and neglect.
A single mother of five, the 35-year-old Milano is pushing a covered wagon more than 250 miles from Savannah to Atlanta.
In April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention/Awareness Month, Milano decided she wanted to do something to bring awareness to the issue. She decided to make a 250-mile trek from her home in Savannah to Atlanta. She calls the trip her "250-Mile Push For [Child Abuse] Awarness."
She trained four weeks with 62-year-old body builder, Tony O'Connor, in order to be physically well enough to make the uphill walk to Atlanta, which is situated about a 1,000 feet higher in elevation than Savannah.
O'Connor's goal was to exchange as much body fat for muscle as possible. She says she gained 25 pounds of muscle.
So, she began her journey, pushing a flag-filled patriotic wagon ahead of her, on May 16 and plans to complete it by June 2.
The wagon arrived in Locust Grove on Tuesday, when she was greeted by the city's mayor, Lorene Lindsey, and others affiliated with the city. This weekend, Milano will make her way through McDonough and Stockbridge and into Clayton and DeKalb counties along Ga. Highway 42 North.
"We originally planned 16 days with a 20 mile-per-day [goal]," Milano says. With the increasing elevation, though, the hike has turned into a 10-mile-a-day drudge. Her three-mile-an-hour walk has turned into a mile-an-hour chore as she gets closer to her finish line, about a mile into the Atlanta city limits.
She admits the ordeal is physically draining, and has taken a toll on her both mentally and physically, but "the value is in the wagon," she says.
Milano hopes to be able to auction off the 750-pound wagon to help pay for the upstart of her abuse-prevention, non-profit organization.
She, too, was abused as a child. She was adopted at the age of 11, and has since turned her struggles into a cause against child abuse and against the generational continuation of abuse.
In her journey, thus far, she has been hit by a transfer trailer truck whose driver fell asleep at the wheel, but she says she kept going.
"Eight miles later, I did it, I hit that wall - that physical limit," she says. "I sat on the side of the road trying to convince myself to go on, to go on that extra mile."
She promised herself and others that "the wagon would have to break down before I did, before I stopped."
"It's taking everything out of my physical being to make some of those hills," says Milano, who adds that some people along central Georgia's countryside have stopped to help her push the wagon.
Through it all, she says, her fear of being hit again or physically succumbing to her fatigue has not stifled her efforts. "Fear will stop you dead in your tracks, literally," she says. "Fear is an emergency break, not a kill switch."
For motivation, Milano carries a book of thoughts with her - a journal of sorts.
"I started having other people write in it," says Milano, about those she meets along her journey.
She says it motivates her to find purpose in what she is doing and to be encouraged that her cause is worthwhile. "It's good for me, because there are times when it's just hard."
Among those who she has met along the way are police officers, many of whom empathize with her cause.
"Most of them understand, because they see these cases," Milano says. "There's not enough staff to contain these reports. There are 60 million adult survivors of child neglect. These people have managed to learn to thrive. Those who don't, are abusing themselves or someone else. A victim can become an abuser."
She averages about four miles in the morning and four miles in the evening, and admits she would do much better with some extra help. She will need that help this week to make it to Atlanta by her set deadline of 10 o'clock Monday morning.
"I believe that if we capture that market that has not recovered, we would be able to significantly reduce the number of cases and fatalities," Milano says. "You have to change an entire justice system to accommodate that sort of issue."
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