Trailblaze Challenge: Make a wish come true

Amy Brindley answers questions before the meeting.

“Is this for Diane?”
I drove to Greensboro last night to hear Diane Van Deren speak at the local Great Outdoor Provision Co., had arrived an hour early, but discovered the folding chairs supposedly set up for her presentation were nearly full.
“This is for the Trailblaze Challenge,” a GOPC employee told me. “Diane is speaking after their meeting.”
Trailblaze Challenge? That's interesting, I thought.
The Trailblaze Challenge is a new fundraiser sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Pledge to raise $2,500, go through a 12-week training program, then do a 24.1-mile hike on June 1 on the Bartram Trail in western North Carolina. The Challenge is patterned after CureSearch for Children’s Cancer’s Ultimate Hike, which is patterned after the Cyctic Fibrosis Foundation’s Extreme Hike. The hikes, as I was soon to learn, are all extremely alike, and for good reason: they were all launched by Amy Brindley, who is now president and chief executive officer of Make-A-Wish’s Central & Western North Carolina Chapter. It was especially interesting to me because for the past two year’s I’ve been a hiking coach for Ultimate Hike.
I stepped up to the registration table. “Do you mind if I sit in on the presentation?” I asked, then explained that I was associated with what could be perceived as a competitor.
The woman on the other side of the table smiled. “Of course you can sit in,” she said. “I’m Amy, by the way.”
About 15 prospective Trailblaze Challengers listened intently as Amy explained Make-A-Wish and the Trailblaze Challenge.
Make-A-Wish was founded in 1980, initially to grant children with terminal medical conditions any wish they wanted. (The foundation has since expanded to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.) Amy said the Central & Western North Carolina Chapter was formed in 1985. Since then, it has granted more than 3,000 wishes; this year, they expect to grant 230 wishes. She shared the most recent wish granted, for three girls to attend a concert last week in Greensboro.
One of the girls was local, one was from Vermont, one was a 13-year-old cancer victim from Georgia, who was a “rush wish,” meaning she only had a short time to live. The artist entertained the girls for 45 minutes before the concert. Then the girls went to their seats to watch the show.
“The 13-year-old was wearing a wig because she’d lost all her hair to treatments and was in a wheelchair,” Amy told the gathering. “They were all having a great time, and at one point the 13-year-old ripped off her wig, got out of her chair and starting dancing.
“That,” Amy added, “is the memory her parents will have of her.”
Granting the average wish costs about $6,000. That’s where the Trailblaze Challenge comes in.
Sign up, agree to raise $2,500 and you get a 12-week training program culminating in the June 1, 24.1-mile hike on the Bartram Trail. The training program includes weekly hikes led by a hike leader and a suggested mid-week training program. Participation includes all costs associated with hike weekend, including two nights at the Hampton Inn in Franklin, transportation and food.

The only drawback to the long hike fundraiser? The hike starts in the middle of the night.

The $2,500 fundraising goal can be daunting. After eight weeks if you don’t think you can do it, you can opt out. If you stay, you’re on the hook for the entire amount. (Personal note: From my two years of Ultimate Hike experience, out of roughly 90 hikers I only know of one who had trouble meeting his goal by the hike date, and you typically have a month after the hike to fulfill your commitment.)
The Trailblaze Challenge kicks off Feb. 23 with a 3-mile hike at Bur-Mil Park in Greensboro. It culminates June 1 with the 24.1-mile hike on the Bartram Trail. The section they’ll be doing is from the Appletree Group Campground along the Nantahala River west over Wayah Bald to Wallace Branch. I backpacked that stretch a little over a year ago; it is gorgeous. Find out more about that adventure here.
The timing of last night’s Trailblaze Challenge recruitment meeting was fortuitous. Many in the crowd stuck around to hear Diane talk about her adventures as an ultra athlete sponsored by The North Face. She spoke of the 430-mile Yukon Arctic Ultra, she spoke of her next event, next week’s Rovaniemi 150 Arctic Winter Race in Finland, which only one person has finished on foot (other ambulatory race options are mountain bike and kicksled) and last year’s romp across North Carolina on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Talking about the challenges of a 1,000-mile race she suggested they weren’t that different than what her audience faced in what to many must have seemed an equally insurmountable goal in hiking 24.1 miles in the rugged Nantahala National Forest.
“You have highs and you have lows,” she said. “You have to greet them, especially the lows. Understand them. Learn from them.” That, she indicated, is key toward the ultimate and overriding goal.
“You gotta keep it fun.”

* * *

Trailblaze Challenge

Upcoming recruitment meetings:

  • Tonight, 6:30 p.m., Great Outdoor Provision Co., Charlotte
  • Thursday, 6:30 p.m., Great Outdoor Provision Co., Winston-Salem
  • Saturday, 10 a.m., REI, Huntersville
  • Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., Omega Sports, High Point
  • Feb. 13, 6:30 p.m., Great Outdoor Provision Co., Greensboro
  • Feb. 16, 9 a.m., Reedy Creek Park, Charlotte
  • Feb. 16, 10 a.m., Great Outdoor Provision Co., Winston-Salem
  • Feb. 23, 9 a.m., Bur-Mil Park, Greensboro

Check out the Trailblaze Challenge Web site here.

Also on June 1, Ultimate Hike will hold its Spring Foothills Hike. That program is aimed at residents of Charlotte and Asheville. Learn more about that hike here. If you live in the Triangle, the Fall Foothills Hike has just been scheduled for Nov. 6. Keep an eye on this blog and the Ultimate Hike site for details.

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