Twenty eight miles is more than most residents’ daily commute from Fort Mill to Uptown Charlotte.
Twenty eight miles is actually two more than a full marathon, most of which are run on relatively flat terrain – 28.3 miles, to be exact, is the magic number for the South Carolina Make-A-Wish Chapter’s Trailblaze Challenge through the Upstate’s Foothills Trail. One Fort Mill High grad is putting his body to the test Saturday in the name of charity and doing his part to help wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions in our state.
Trailblaze Challenger Matt Wall, born and raised in Fort Mill and now a Charleston resident, is an avid hiker who has frequented trails as local as North and South Carolina and as remote as New Zealand. He became involved with Make-A-Wish to honor his childhood best friend and college roommate, Ryan Dawson, who survived Ewing Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, after he was diagnosed at age 13.
“Seeing Ryan overcome his struggles definitely inspired me to take on this challenge and do what I can to bring hope, strength and joy into kids’ lives in our community,” Wall said.
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Since its inception in 1984, the South Carolina Make-A-Wish program has granted over 2,000 wishes to children in South Carolina. There are over 200 children waiting for their wishes to come true. The average wish costs around $7,500 to fulfill, including travel, lodging and other expenses.
Dawson was in eighth grade at Gold Hill Middle School a tumor was found on his leg. He underwent a year of chemotherapy, full knee replacement surgery and years of physical therapy to make a full recovery. He was selected as a child ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network halfway through his chemo treatment, and was invited to help host their annual telethon with the celebrities and professional athletes.
Through his own cancer journey Dawson got to interact with a lot of the kids that both Children’s Miracle Network and Make-A-Wish help. “50 percent of beating disease is your attitude and staying upbeat. I got to see firsthand the impact that wishes made on kids in similar situations,” Dawson said.
The Trailblaze Challenge starts off in Upper Falls Overlook and traverses an altitude difference of over 1,500 feet, ending at Oconee State Park. The hike kicks off at 3 a.m. Saturday and Wall hopes to average 2.5 miles per hour to complete the entire hike within 12 hours. He spent the last four months preparing with a combination of running, hiking with weight and eating “clean.” He most recently completed the Cooper River Bridge Run April 1 and has been hiking 10 miles or better, two to three times per week.
“The best part about hiking is the culture and the people you meet,” Wall said.
“I was hiking in Francis Marion National Park, wearing my Make-A-Wish bandana and got stopped by a group of fellow hikers. They asked me about the bandana and I explained what I was training for and they pulled out cash and donated on the spot. That’s the trail magic – you never know what’s going to happen or in what form it will come.”
So far, Wall has raised over $2,000. To make a donation, go to sctrailblazechallenge.kintera.org/spring17/wall.