Sunday, May 31, 2015

Because I Can - Reflections of a Trailblazer

When I first started thinking about signing up for the Trailblaze Challenge in late January, I was waiting on the results of my MRI and I wasn't sure what I would be able to do. Luckily, I got some good news and registered in early February. During our first meeting, we were all asked to introduce ourselves and tell everyone why we were there. There were people from all walks of life - young, old, in-shape, trying to get in shape, people who have had a personal experience with Make-A-Wish and others, like me, who were there because they like to hike, wanted to meet some new people and why not raise money for a good cause along the way.

In all of the hikes I did over the last 3 months, I kept extra weight in my pack (dog food is good for this!) so that I could start to train myself for my solo hikes in the Tetons in June and I kept my eye on my long-term goal of getting stronger and testing out new equipment. Along the way, I offered space on a shirt for a mantra or favorite quote to anyone who donated $25 or more to kick-start my fundraising and emailed friends and family with pleas for donations to raise the $2500 required of me. With a little less than a two weeks left to go in my fundraiser, I've raised 115% of my goal which doesn't include all of the matching gift donations provided by donators' companies. 

The hike took me just over 11 hours to complete and while I started out with a lot of people, I found myself hiking alone for a lot of the time. I enjoy the solitude of hiking and this was no exception, but as I mentioned in a previous post, when hiking or running, I often find myself randomly jumping from one topic to another, so as I made it from 15 to 18 to 20 miles, lots of things popped into my head.

I thought back to the stories that were shared Friday night of the parents of a Wish kid who were doing this hike to give back to the organization that helped their daughter join a music cruise for her wish.

I thought a lot about the people who sponsored me, many had their own reasons for donating, including some with a more personal connection to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Through their donations, I was able to go into hike day not worrying about having to meet this goal after the hike - I could just focus on the experience of the day.

I got mad at myself for not packing one of my sweat bands because it was hot! Which lead me to thinking about the one that I have that says "Because I Can" - whenever you take on something like this that others think is crazy, their first question is always why?!?!! I don't have a good reason, other than, because I can... I can run, so why not run half marathons... I can walk, so why not hike 28.3 miles in one day. Not everyone can do that, so if I can, why shouldn't I? 

I have a friend from college who I got to know by playing soccer together for a couple years. The year after I graduated, he was in a sledding accident where he broke his neck and is now paralyzed. He may never play soccer again, but he's adjusted to his new situation. He's the co-founder of a company, PathVu, that is working to improve the accessibility and walkability of sidewalks and he's taking his engineering background to pursue a Masters degree in Rehabilitation Science and Technology. 

Sunday morning, as part of our wrap-up breakfast, everyone was given a pin and asked to dedicate it to someone based on their experience through this project. We heard a lot of stories of dedication to the person that the hiker had joined the challenge with, including the mother and father who were holding their baby as they tried to fathom what the families of Wish kids go through and the daughter who took her mother's place in the hike with only 3 weeks' notice, to the guy who doesn't even live in Charlotte anymore, but came back for his third year in a row because the organization means so much to him that he's now a Wish granter in his new city, to the supporters back home who told one hiker to suck it up when he broke his arm because it "wasn't his leg," to the new friends made on the trail and to the other hikers and Make-A-Wish staff who supported everyone on the trail, giving everyone supplies, massaging feet and forcing people off the trail for their own good, even when they wanted to try to go on. 

Everyone had a unique story of why they joined, how they got to hike day and why they kept going for 28.3 miles... you never know what will happen tomorrow, so if you can, why not? 

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