Hiking for Emily Rose

Matthews mom raises money for CureSearch

by Josh Whitener

Amy McKelvey of Matthews (far right) recently hiked 28.3 miles and raised $5,800 for CureSearch, a pediatric cancer nonprofit. Photo courtesy of Amy McKelvey

Pediatric cancer didn’t hit home for Amy McKelvey until her daughter, Emily Rose, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in July 2008. She died just five months later.

More than three years later, McKelvey is doing everything she can to raise money and awareness of pediatric cancer.

Last month she completed a 28.3-mile hike along the Foothills Trail through North and South Carolina, raising $5,800 for CureSearch, the national organization that financially supports the search for a cure for pediatric cancer.

Ever since the cheerleaders at Butler High School, Emily’s school, walked in her honor at the first CureSearch walk in 2008, McKelvey has participated in the walk annually. But when she heard about CureSearch’s regional “Ultimate Hike,” she knew it was time for something different – something radical to stand up to pediatric cancer.

She announced her goal on Emily’s CaringBridge journal on Feb. 28, and on March 1, she began two months of training. Every two weeks, she would train with her fellow Ultimate Hike participants, a group of about 70 individuals who pledged to hike and raise money.

They started with hiking about five or six miles per training day at Crowder’s Mountain and King’s Mountain and worked their way up to about 20 miles in one day. On the weekends she didn’t have official training, McKelvey still got together with a small group of participants to do their own hiking.

“Prior to the Ultimate Hike, I think I logged about 215 miles in all,” she said.

McKelvey and her fellow hikers trained hard, but nothing could quite prepare them for the actual event. On the big day, McKelvey awoke at about 3 a.m. to get ready. By 4:30 a.m., the hikers set foot on the trail, near Sloan Bridge at Table Rock State Park. Because it was still dark, the hikers wore headlamps.

“When daybreak came, you shed your headlamps and you kept going on,” McKelvey said.

The trail was broken up into segments, with three stations along the way to provide food, water and first aid. The first four miles, McKelvey said, were fairly easy. The next stretch, miles four to 10, were a bit more strenuous. The most challenging stretch was miles 10 to 20. The final eight miles were not as strenuous, although McKelvey said they were still difficult.

“While (the final stretch) was a short one, it was probably the hardest just because you’re so tired,” she said. “It was almost all downhill, which is really hard on your knees. When I started training for the hike, downhill became my enemy.”

Fourteen hours after embarking on the hike, McKelvey and a small team of fellow hikers reached the end of the trail at Oconee State Park in South Carolina. They arrived a little later than they had planned, mostly due to the fact they picked up a dehydrated stray hiker from another group along the way. McKelvey also had to stop at an aid station to nurse some foot blisters.

One of the most difficult aspects of the hike, McKelvey said, was the terrain.

“It had just rained the night before, so it was really slippery,” she said.

But perhaps the biggest challenge wasn’t a physical one; it was an emotional one.

“The whole journey was pretty emotional, you know, having time to think, while I was training and on the trail, about Emily,” she said. “It was kind of a whole emotional revisit for me, so that was probably the hardest thing.”

While McKelvey still misses Emily greatly, she hopes to continue to use her story to reach out to the community.

“In our area, there are so many children who have lost their battle or are still fighting their battle with cancer,” she said. “Unless you’re directly affected by pediatric cancer or know someone affected by it, you just don’t realize it’s such an issue.”

For more information on how you can help fight pediatric cancer, visit www.curesearch.org.

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