Fitness, stress relief, weight loss… the benefits of walking are well-known by scientists and fitness experts alike. However, for a handful of remarkable individuals, walking means so much more than this; for some, walking is their way to triumph over adversity and to raise both money and awareness for worthy causes.
If you lack motivation when it comes to putting one foot in front of another, you should read these inspirational hiking stories.
Blind hiker completes the Appalachian Trail unaided
Completing the Appalachian Trail is an incredible achievement by anyone’s standards. The American walk spans 2,180 miles and 14 States with a total elevation equivalent to climbing Mount Everest 16 times. In 2010, accountant Mike Hanson reached the summit of the route’s northern terminus on Mount Katahdin after a gruelling journey through sun and snow. But what sets him apart is that he completed the trip without sight.
Mike lost his sight during a medical procedure at birth, and has been legally blind for his whole life. But unlike 70% of people with this disability, his lack of vision did not prevent him from finding employment and he enjoyed a successful career in accountancy.
However, when he heard the above statistic, Mike felt compelled to show both blind and sighted people how technology can help those without vision to bridge the employment gap. He downloaded free, open-source GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) software onto his mobile phone and programmed in data from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Using this information, his home-made navigation device was able to offer directions and the location of campsites, trailheads and water sources along the route.
Armed with his mobile phone and trekking poles, and accompanied by documentary filmmaker Gary Steffans, Mike was able to use the audible instructions and sensory information to complete the journey over a period of 7 months.
Mike has also written a book and launched a business with the aim of improving awareness of technology to aid the blind, both amongst employers and the blind themselves. The name of his company? Wayfinder Angels.
Injured veterans climb Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak, a snow-capped mountain standing a staggering 5,895 metres above the plains. Reaching the summit involves a 5 – 8 day climb, challenging for even the fittest able-bodied hikers. However, a group of war veterans from Florida undertook to take on the mountain, despite members of the party missing limbs and, in some cases, living with brain injuries sustained during service.
Amongst the participants was Sergeant Pete Quintanilla, an amputee who completed the journey using a prosthetic leg. At the heart of the project was the aim to give researchers from St. Petersberg College the opportunity to study the effects of stress and varying changes on the socket fit of the artificial limb.
Working with Florida State University, researchers will use the data to improve prosthetics for other amputees.
Daughter hikes Machu Pichu for cancer charity
Machu Pichu is a mountainous region of Peru steeped in the fascinating history of the Inca civilization. The area encompasses dizzying views and ruined temples, believed to have been built for the emperor Pachacuti, leading to the name ‘City of the Incas’. This will be the destination for 25 year old Lucille Blanche from London, England, who is lacing up her hiking boots to raise money for the Macmillan charity.
When Lucille’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, the charity not only offered emotional support but paid for her life-saving treatment. To repay their kindness, Lucille set herself a fundraising target of £3,800, which she quickly raised through parties, collections at work outings and bake sales.
Spurred on by her success, Lucille has raised her target to £5,000, and hopes her charity hike will help her to reach it. You can donate to Lucille at http://www.justgiving.com/lucillebunce.
If you feel inspired to walk, whether for charity, fitness or fun, but don’t want to do it alone, why not join a local walking group? Not only will you gain a unique perspective of your area on foot, but research suggests that you are more likely to stick to an exercise plan if you do it in company. Alternatively, when you book this year’s holiday, consider a walking tour; whether you fancy the snowy slopes of Switzerland to the lush vineyards of France, wherever you wander, do so in the knowledge that walking really is for life.