Happy Thanksgiving, Adventurers!
Editor’s Note: All of our Climb to Fight Breast Cancer Rainier teams summited this summer! It was a remarkable year on Mt. Rainier with extraordinary climbers participating. It was an honor to support these adventurers as they took on mountains – both physically and metaphorically. This blog is a first-hand account of climber Kevin Zelko’s adventure – and he took on the biggest mountain of all — recovery from cancer. Kevin is one of those individuals who makes you a better person just for knowing him. Here Kevin takes you along on his journey….
I’ve had some time to recover and get some rest from my big climb on Mt Rainier. I’ve used the time to reflect on and swallow what this experience has been for me, and the larger journey I’ve been over the last two years in fighting cancer. I’m finally heading back to the gym to continue my journey to health, and learn what life has in store for me next.
My “Summit the Shield” team has begun to meet up again and share our personal experiences and celebrate our victory. We have raised more than our fundraising goal for this mountainous adventure and have raised over $41,500 for cancer research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. We had a fundraiser earlier this year during my battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and raised over $26,000. Seeing that total raised to fight cancer in 2015 at over $67,500 is pretty out of this world. It shows what a small group of talented folks and an amazing network of people can achieve! I’m so lucky to have this team of seven guys make this happen.
When I began training for my Mt. Rainier climb, I was one month from ending my radiation therapy. The goal was crazy…but to quote the old punk band Jawbreaker: “Just so crazy it might just work.” I wrangled up some of the strongest friends I had and the journey of seeing these individuals meld into a strong team began with a mission: Bring the Seattle Sounders Supporters’ Shield to the top of Mount Rainier while fundraising over $40,000 for Fred Hutch.
My goal was also to get in shape and to help escape some of the pain that my body was feeling from the weaknesses it had developed in fighting cancer. Climbing the stairs in my home were filled with back pain, and I’d use the handrails to get up. I’d dodge hills. My balance was not as strong as it once was.
Alpine Ascents International, the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer’s guide service, really kept the details in check and kept us feeling like the goals ahead of us would be managed if we worked hard. Their staff is so informative and we couldn’t have achieved our goals without their teamwork.
The summer months began speeding by and soon we had to get all of our gear ready for our August climb. My team was ready to go. The night before we left for Mt. Rainier, Seattle had a crazy freak storm. It made checking the weather a bit more frequent than our normal weather checking habits. Somehow the mountain took care of us. It was a beautiful day at Paradise, the starting point of our climb (5,400 ft). We left at 10:30 AM and our next stop was Camp Muir. (10,100 ft)
My inability to keep pace with the team became pretty evident, as we continued up the mountain. We crossed Pebble Creek (7,200 ft) and hit a cool cloud cover that surrounded us. Eventually at about 7500 ft, we cleared the clouds and had a view of the peaks poking their heads above the clouds: Mts. Hood, Adams and St. Helens were stunning. My guide, who helped me arrive at Camp Muir about 90 minutes behind the others, snapped some gorgeous photos. Carrying my 45 pound backpack to Camp Muir felt like more than what I could accomplish. The whole team felt great, and we rested while snapping photos, snacking and telling stories. We slept quite well in our bunks.
The next morning, I decided that my pace would hamper the group’s mission to bring the Sounders Supporters’ Shield to the Summit. I spoke with my team and sent them to get the 46 pound trophy to the top. They tried to talk me out of it in so many ways, but I was firm with them. After breakfast and some team training, my team headed up to high camp at the Ingraham Flats (11,200 ft), and I headed back down the mountain.
When I arrived down at Paradise, my long wait to hear if they made it began. I finally got a text message from one of the guys, and indeed, the Shield had been Summited! My team achieved our goals. Everyone returned home safely, and my memories are unforgettable.
My relationship with that mountain will forever be different, and even more visible to me every time I see it. I could never have imagined that I’d have been ready four months after radiation to carry a 45 pound pack to Camp Muir. I have more than met my goals on this adventure, and I am so thankful for each person who helped me get here. My body doesn’t hurt as I walk stairs, and I will always look at the Supporters’ Shield knowing that it helped me get back to health too!
~ Kevin Zelko