Mint Hill leukemia patient walks 300 miles for charity

by Josh Whitener

Mint Hill resident Stephen Uzzell (above, third from left) was met by friends and family during the last mile of his 300-mile walking journey for charity. Photo courtesy of Marie-Michele Darcy

Stephen Uzzell has always loved walking, but the 62-year-old Mint Hill resident recently transformed a long-time hobby into an outreach endeavor.

On April 9, Uzzell set out on a 300-mile local walkabout, gaining pledges and raising funds for St. Luke Catholic Church’s Agape Missions and the Mariposa Project, an orphanage in Jalisco, Mexico. And he finished May 19, despite his own battles with leukemia and diabetes. The effort has raised more than $4,000, with donations still being collected.

The idea came out of the blue one day, when Uzzell decided to fuse his love for walking and passion for ministry into his own special outreach effort. For years, Uzzell has been an avid walker, walking daily for exercise.

“Sometime last year, I started working on the idea to walk cross country,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why not do a fundraiser walk?’”

A St. Luke member, Uzzell has been involved in the church’s Agape Missions for many years, traveling to both Jamaica and the Dominican Republic – the two locations where Agape Missions reaches out to those living in poverty. He also has served on a team that’s been planning to start a third branch of Agape Missions as part of the Christian Appalachian Project, which works to make improvements to senior housing projects in Lexington, Ky.

The Mariposa Project also became a ministry close to Uzzell’s heart when his brother-in-law retired to Mexico and started working with the orphanage.

“I have a personal connection with experience in working with those places,” he said. “I wanted to take the opportunity to turn a hobby into a means of raising money for missions, for those projects.”

Uzzell originally intended to walk 500 miles across the state. But dealing with treatments for leukemia and diabetes presented a challenge. Plan B was to walk 350 miles from the East Coast to Mint Hill, but, logistically, that didn’t work either.

“It would have been difficult to find lodging and ways to spend the night along the way,” he said.

The final plan was to stay in Mint Hill and walk to and from home. Uzzell walked 8 to 10 miles, six days a week, resting on Sunday. Having previously done a lot of walking around the area, Uzzell knows the region well and was able to mix up his circle-back routes as well as walk on some local park trails.

Heeding the warning of his doctor, Uzzell, who had one leukemia treatment during the walkabout, listened to his body and adjusted his pace to suit his health condition.

“Based on my health, I had to pace myself and divide and conquer, bit by bit,” he said. “There were times where keeping my feet healthy was a challenge, too. You just have to make the (resting periods) count, put your feet up, put ice on them and soak them if you have to.”

But walking wasn’t just a physical experience; it was a spiritual one as well. Each day, Uzzell sent out an email to friends, family and fellow St. Luke members, journaling his experience and giving Scriptural insights and daily devotions.

“I’m amazed at his spirit,” St. Luke’s Father Paul Gary said. “He provided spiritual reflections for each day, wonderful spiritual meditations. There are a lot of wonderful things he’s done to inspire.”

Gary is grateful for Uzzell’s dedication and what all his effort will bring, not just to Agape Missions, but to fellow Christians.

“He doesn’t garner attention for himself,” Gary said. “He lets the light shine on other people, bringing attention to the ministries and what people do for them. He’s a great spiritual man and people really admire him.”

Uzzell said support and prayers from friends and family kept him motivated.

“I knew that a lot of people were pulling for me, and I think that really helped pull me along,” he said.

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