Starting on Oct. 17, for the first time ever, Knoxville will be an official Irreverent Warriors hiking location.
Irreverent Warriors is a veteran-run nonprofit created in 2014 dedicated to promoting positive veteran mental health and preventing suicides by way of an annual series of hikes around the country. IW’s primary mission is to connect vets through a healing process of laughter and irreverence amid tragedy. Fittingly, the irreverent warriors take on their hikes sporting silkies, a tight fitting, exceedingly short breed of military shorts.
The all-day hike will begin at Suttree Landing Park — located just northeast of UTK alongside the Tennessee River. From there, the warriors will make their way across the downtown area, chatting irreverently the entire time.
Knoxville event coordinator and ex-marine Jesse Hawe was in charge of planning out the tour.
“The Knoxville Hike will showcase beautiful downtown Knoxville. We start on the south side along the river overlooking the city at Suttree Landing. We will go through downtown Knoxville, passing by the Tennessee Theatre, Market Square, the iconic World's Fair Park, and the University of Tennessee,” Hawe said.
In addition to planning locations, the Irreverent Warriors Knoxville team had to work out feeding all of the hike’s participants. Being a true nonprofit, Irreverent Warriors often partner with local businesses to feed their hikers. Hawe, with help from assistant Coordinator Candi Bobick, arranged multiple partnerships with Knox businesses.
“We have partnered with some local restaurants including Coffee Chocolate, Black Horse Brewery, and Next Level Brewery, to help provide our hikers with Food and water and to show off downtown,” Hawe said.
An unexpected factor affecting Irreverent Warriors’ upcoming Knoxville Hike is the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the havoc COVID-19 has caused with IW, the hikes have stayed up and running, with pandemic procedures being enforced strenuously by staff members. These procedures consist of mandatory masks, temperature taking, and health questionnaires, emphasizing safety precautions as a mandatory order of the organization.
IW excursions are designed not only to encourage mentally healthy veterans, but to bring the veteran communities of various cities together. Friends are made and reunions are had on every hike.
Army Vet and Irreverent Warriors CEO, Cindy McNally, has found purpose in managing Irreverent Warriors. Dubbed “momma bear,” Cindy has worked in upper management for the organization for two years and has found personal solace in the group’s messages of love and camaraderie.
“My love tank is full. I feel the love from this community. I feel valued and I feel loved. I feel very complete at this point,” McNally said.
Furthermore, the Warrior community is still growing. Veteran responses to the company and its messages have been astonishingly positive. Most every IW hike is marked by first time partakers who, as put by coordinator Jesse Hawe, “come as strangers and leave like family.” In fact, CEO McNally attributes any lack of participants to a problem of “need for other veterans to know we exist.”
Though the hikes are only open to Veterans, the atmosphere has been described as welcoming and sanctuary-like, and with vets bonding so intimately on the hikes, the military communities of IW-sponsored cities will continue to grow.
“Our mission is to bring veterans together — the hikes are just the springboard to a local network [of Veterans],” McNally said.
Irreverent Warriors’ Knoxville outing is set to advocate and bring awareness to Veteran mental health. Additionally, the hike will incorporate Knoxville into the growing network of proud vets across the country.