You don’t often see a retired grandfather of three hang-gliding over Rio de Janeiro, but that’s exactly what Kurt Penney did back in 2011. In fact, that’s just one of the many outdoor adventures he and his family have tackled over the years.
This year he’ll be adding “hiking 28.3 miles in one day” to his list.
As a retired mechanical engineer, 63-year-old Kurt knows a lot about providing solutions to problems. After attending an Ultimate Hike meeting (his son Adam coached the first Ultimate Hike in Columbia, South Carolina five years ago), and realizing that he needed to stay fit after his retirement last July, Kurt decided to join the Foothills Trail Ultimate Hike to help solve a big problem: children’s cancer.
With only 4% of federal funding going toward children’s cancer research, the Ultimate Hike helps raise money for much-needed research so children get better and less toxic treatment options.
Although that’s a big reason to join the Hike, there was a much smaller (but equally important) reason for Kurt. Her name is Avie, a young girl who was diagnosed with a choroid plexus carcinoma brain tumor in April 2016. Her father and Kurt’s son have been best friends since they were three years old, and their families are very dear, longtime friends.
“Avie was diagnosed when she was only 14 months old. For months prior to her diagnosis, Avie was living with this growing tumor in her brain. She was not able to tell of her headaches, her dizziness, and her pain during these pre-diagnosis weeks and months. After diagnosis, she went through unimaginable treatments and surgeries while being attached to seven various tubes. She couldn’t even eat for weeks, but when not asleep or totally exhausted, she maintained that smile. She is so much stronger than any adult I know.”
Kurt says that watching national fundraising telethons on TV made him sad, but nothing more. Since learning of Avie’s diagnosis, he has cried so many times, and he wishes more people realized that children’s cancer is real.
“Real children are drastically affected. Real children are receiving chemo, radiation, surgeries, etc. Those little bodies go through hell. Their parents feel helpless, mad, angry, hopeless, and probably cry most nights. Their parents go through hell. Their siblings are mad, confused, and probably feel neglected at times. Folks, this is real!”
Avie was enough motivation to inspire Kurt to join the Hike. Luckily, his engineering background gave him the discipline that’s needed to train for a 28.3-mile hike and the experience to design a training schedule that works best for him. He started hiking various trails in the nearby Harbison State Forest, which is also the location for his group training hikes.
“I try to do 2-3 hikes per week, lengths being determined by previously hiked distances, time, weather, and my legs. For the other days of the week, I walk 2 miles around the neighborhood.”
Despite a recent hike in Harbison State Forest where he pushed himself a bit too hard and his body was telling himself “No more,” Kurt is finally finding his stride in a training routine. He is now back on cross training, but with minimal leg workouts.
To Kurt, Avie is an amazingly strong and beautiful girl who has experienced treatments unimaginable to most people. She motivates him every day to want to complete the April 29th Hike. In fact, she was recently declared cancer-free, so that’s an even bigger motivation for him!
We are rooting for Avie’s cancer-free future and Kurt’s successful Hike weekend, and we can’t wait to hear about his next great adventure.
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