Man walks from Port Orchard to Boston to fight ‘problem gambling’
By KAITLIN STROHSCHEIN
Port Orchard Independent Reporter
May 5, 2011 · Updated 10:07 AM
Twenty-four-year-old Michael Korpi took a ferry to Port Orchard on Oct. 4 and started walking across America to raise awareness about problem gambling.
He’s taking two dogs and a cart full of his gear.
“I was going to carry a backpack,” he said, “but I did some trial walks with 70 to 80 pounds on my back, and thought that was kind of ridiculous.”
The cart has generally worked well.
In Bend Oregon it broke, though, and he had to reconstruct its frame using more sturdy materials.
And he's faced other challenges.
In New Mexico, he encountered unseasonably cold weather.
“At the coldest it, was 20 below,” he said.
That’s the coldest weather he’s experienced.
“A generous native American family took me in for a couple of weeks,” he said.
“People, in general, are a lot nicer than they get credit for,” he said. “After walking so far, I have a really positive outlook on the generous tendencies of people.”
“It’s encouraging to know that people are looking out for me.”
Korpi has, so far, made it to St. Louis, and hopes to make it to Boston by June, to speak at the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling’s annual conference.
Problem gambling, also known as “compulsive gambling“ or “gambling addiction” has impacted him very personally.
He started gambling as a junior in high school, on a rainy weekday afternoon after school, at his friend’s house.
“I didn‘t know much about what I was doing that evening, but I left with over $13 and already I couldn’t wait for the next opportunity to play,” he wrote in his blog.
That summer, he attended a high school summer college program at Stanford University, and “became irreversibly addicted to the game.”
“For me, the draw to poker was that there’s that competitive aspect of it,” he said. “You’re against other people, and try to figure out what they’re holding. I always saw myself as a pretty smart person, and it’s a game that I could beat.”
It wasn’t just about the money, though.
“It’s also the rush that you get when you win that big pot,” he said. “I was taken by that rush, and quickly, it wasn’t about winning the money, it was about getting that rush.”
“In that sense, it’s sort of like any other addiction,” he said.
And, like other addictions, it led him to do things that he knew were wrong, like lying, stealing and get suspended from two different colleges.
“The reality is that most people can control their gambling,” he wrote, “but because of what is at stake–friendships, families, homes, and even lives–if they develop gambling problems, I would never recommend the activity of gambling to anybody.”
Breaking the habit has been a tough one, he said, and he’s thankful for support he’s gotten from friends, family and counselors.
“Even though it might look dark, when you’re kind of at the end of the line, take that first step to ask for help,” he said. “It might not happen right away, but there is help and hope for a better life.”
Korpi said he took part in a several one-on-one counseling group meetings before he quit.
“Those are only helpful if you want to quit,” he said, “both the one-on-one counseling and the group meetings were very helpful at that point.”
Korpi sees his trip across the country as part of his personal journey to recovery.
“Both are things you have to take a day at a time,” he said. “If you look at it in terms of having throusands of miles to go, it can be disheartening, but if you take it one day at a time, the miles add up behind it, and before you know it, you’ve gone most of the way.”