The 'Barefoot Dutchman' and his remarkable trek for men's mental health

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CISCO, Grand County — On a stretch of I-70, about 18 miles from the Colorado-Utah border, the wind makes driving a bit hazardous. Walking directly into 40 mph gusts and oncoming traffic, Anton Nootenboom seems undeterred.

He's been walking barefoot on all kinds of surfaces since leaving Los Angeles in February.

"For about a month I was walking with infected wounds on my foot," Nootenboom said.

He's determined, he's upbeat, and he's known simply as the "Barefoot Dutchman." His goal, to break the Guinness World Record for walking barefoot — a total of 3,100 miles from LA to Times Square in New York.

"I realized I got something here," the Dutchman said with pride. "It's as simple as using my two barefoot flippers and willpower to make a difference."

The difference he's after is not a change in the record books. It's for change in men's lives and their mental well-being.

"I want to change that perspective and get men to feel brave about speaking up," Nootenboom said. "These very high numbers in depression and suicide that are now linked to not speaking up, we can prevent that from happening."

Nearly 1 in 10 men experience some form of depression or anxiety. The number who seek treatment is less than half that. For men, especially, learning to find balance with one's mental health requires talking about it.

That's why the Barefoot Dutchman's hashtag is #BRAVEMENTALK, and why his journey is all about breaking the silence. Now he walks the world to bring attention to men's mental health struggles. He's gone barefoot to Everest base camp and also walked barefoot 1,800 miles in Australia to set a Guinness Record.

Nootenboom is a military veteran, who returned to civilian life after three tours of duty in Afghanistan for the Netherlands. That's when his bouts with anxiety, panic attacks and depression became severe.

"Funny enough, it has nothing to do with Afghanistan, which everyone thinks. It's just more about life," Nootenboom said. "A deep black hole I just sank into, and I wasn't prepared for it. I would just burst into tears, and I had no idea where the tears came from."

He credited friends, counseling and an app that helped him practice mindfulness and meditation. Plus, there was a newfound love of walking barefoot.

His journey across Utah and the West is being tracked by many of his 97,000-plus Instagram followers. But one person who'd not heard of the Barefoot Dutchman is Utahn Christer Edwards.

Edwards was camping near Goblin Valley and Capitol Reef when he felt mysteriously directed to venture to Hanksville, Utah. "Suddenly I saw him on the side of the road and was drawn like a magnet," Edwards said.

Anton Nootenboom shows off his van which features his hashtag honoring men's mental health awareness.
Anton Nootenboom shows off his van which features his hashtag honoring men's mental health awareness. (Photo: Ken Fall, KSL-TV)

Edwards had been feeling his career and personal life were in need of a reset.

"Part of that is because I was emotionally unavailable, and I couldn't share what was going on. So, to see this message that brave men talk and that men can say, 'I need help; I'm struggling.' That's what I needed to see." Edwards said. "And I'm really glad I listened to that gut feeling: 'Just go to Hanksville.'"

For Nootenboom, Utah was a welcome sight. "And even though I was struggling on my feet, I at least had something to look at," he said.

He's moved by the character of Utah's small towns.

"By far the most friendly. Like a community, they look out for each other. When there's someone new in town that has a story, they are genuinely interested," Nootenboom said.

The Barefoot Dutchman insists his amazing journey will conclude in New York this fall and said there's only thing that could stop him.

"I would have to end up in a hospital with both legs not working anymore for me now not to finish this."


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Ken Fall


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