Written by Brecka Putnam, Senior Regional Manager, Development.
One day a year, for the past four years, James Brannock has found himself lacing up his hiking boots in a remote parking lot at 4:00 AM in the morning. This year will no exception, as the 68-year-old will once again hike 28 miles of the Foothills Trail to help children with cancer.
In 2013, CureSearch for Children’s Cancer sponsored the Ultimate Hike in Columbia, South Carolina and Brannock was there. He was actually one of the first to sign up.
“My daughter was born with an extremely rare eye condition. She had four operations on each eye before she was two years old. Nothing…nothing ever moved me like holding her tiny body in my lap as they administered anesthesia before her first surgery. It was not cancer, or life threatening, but I knew the unending stress of a parent with a sick child. If you have a sick child, you should sign up from empathy; if your children were healthy, you should sign up as a way of rejoicing,” said Brannock.
Despite a sub-freezing start that year, Brannock was hooked, and quickly became a lead volunteer for Ultimate Hike. He took a break from hiking in 2014 to serve as a logistics volunteer, driving hikers into the woods, staffing aid stations, and assisting with setup and take down. Since 2015, James has not only hiked, but helped train local hikers as half of the Columbia coaching team.
The coaches spend three months preparing hikers for the trail, creating specialized training plans to meet each hiker’s fitness and ability. On Ultimate Hike day, Brannock and other coaches hike alongside or behind participants, making sure they are safe and successful.
“I am 68 years old and I do not look like an athlete,” said Brannock, “so people can look at me and say, ‘If that old guy can do it, I can do it!’ Last year, on our hike, we had hikers from 10 to 70 years old successfully complete the hike.”
Brannock had no idea that he would be a five-year participant – he actually expected to do it just once. “The connection with the other hikers is amazing,” he recalled. “Another hiker summed it up, ‘we hardly know each other, but we love each other.’ You are always aware that you are doing it for tiny, innocent kids who are facing much more serious challenges.”
Brannock is recruiting the 2017 class of Ultimate Hikers. People interested in joining the Ultimate Hike should go here to learn more about the event.
In its seventh year, CureSearch’s Ultimate Hike is the original endurance fundraiser on the Foothills Trail, and the only endurance hiking fundraiser to fight cancer, the number one disease killer of children.
To find a Hike near you, visit ultimatehike.org.
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