“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
Saturday, September 24, 2016 is a day that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The night before, I joined twenty-three other hikers and a team of volunteers as we converged on the small town of Lavonia, Georgia. Very soon after our group dinner, I headed to my room for a short sleep. I woke at 2:30 AM to have a light breakfast. My first surprise of the day was my decorated hotel door. There were banners, and balloons, and a picture of seven-year old Parker. He suffers from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and wishes to be a zookeeper. A note was next to his picture. It said, “Matt, you rock. Your combined efforts will grant 42 wishes for kids in our community. Thank you. Good luck on the trail today.” I had a wonderful feeling I was involved in something very important!
We boarded three vans at 3:30 AM for an uncomfortable, hour-long ride to the trailhead. At 4:30 AM, we unloaded, put on hydration backpacks and headlamps, and readied ourselves for a 28.3-mile hike along the Foothills Trail of South and North Carolina. By 6:00 AM my fitness tracker was buzzing. I’d already reached my normal daily goal of 10,000 steps, before sunrise. By the end of the hike, I earned a new Fitbit badge for walking 65,000 steps in a single day. The hike was inspirational and at times painful. The trail was beautiful and at times brutal. After mile twenty, my energy reserves were depleted. My muscles were exhausted. My body began aching from the inside out. Even the music app on my phone stopped functioning. It seems a ten-hour slow flow of sweat from my ears had blown my headset out. But stopping was never an option, not with Parker on my mind.
The Make-A-Wish volunteers were amazing. They had organized three aid stations throughout the hike. Every hiker entered each station to rousing applause and cheering, making us feel loved and very appreciated. We rested on camping chairs as they filled our hydration packs, fed us, and tended to any aches, pains, blisters or other ailments. They encouraged us to continue on. We were, after all, hiking for the Wish Kids! It makes me smile just thinking about how selfless every volunteer was. They too were doing it for the Wish Kids.
I left the final aid station dead tired and yet determined. I had eight miles to go. Each step was harder, every incline more demanding. A tree fallen over the path, so easy to step over or squat under at the beginning of the day, now looked like a huge challenge and took enormous effort to get over. There was about six miles to go when my music stopped. At first, I tried to fiddle with it but I was just too exhausted to attempt to fix the music and keep walking. So I focused on the walking, in silence now. After a few more hours, I saw the signs of the Make-A-Wish mile. Yes, I could see banners, and crepe paper, and the pictures of hundreds of Make-A-Wish kids on star-shaped ornaments, hanging on the trees. I had reached the final mile. As I approached the trees, I could see that the ornaments were necklaces. I grabbed one at random, one out of hundreds…. And when I looked at it I couldn’t believe my eyes! On the front was a little girl I recognized. The back read:
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
I wish to be a ballerina
A wave of magic washed over me – a feeling of pure love. Mahlia’s picture was a sign that I was right where I was meant to be, and doing exactly what I was meant to do. You see, I had discovered beautiful Mahlia four months earlier as I was creating my first social media graphic to raise money for the Wish Kids, and she’s even featured on my Make-A-Wish donors page. Now her picture was hanging around my neck, encouraging me, giving me strength and inspiring me to finish strong. She was reminding me that I was hiking for the Wish Kids!
The following morning we hikers and volunteers gathered together one last time. During breakfast, each hiker was asked to talk about what the hike meant to them. Emotions were raw. One man was hiking in honor of his wife who had passed away a few months earlier. He rose to speak but couldn’t utter a single word. Tears of joy, sadness and love puddled in his eyes as he slowly sat back down to a round of applause. When my turn came to speak, I stood and told my story of Mahlia, and I dedicated my hike to her.
Of course, we were all there hiking for the kids. Over Make-A-Wish’s 30-year history, they have found that granting a wish is often the best medicine possible for kids facing a horrible disease. It is a prescription that changes a child’s outlook on life and generates a smile, perhaps for the first time in a long time.
I want to personally thank the dozens of people that have made a donation in my name. I appreciate you so much. I also am grateful for the hundreds of people who have supported our entire group of hikers. The Wisk Kids appreciate you too. So far we have raised $181,518. Our goal is $256,000. We still have three weeks remaining to achieve our goal. Please help us and share in the Power of a Wish® – donate today right here! Thank you!
Image via Unsplash | This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click and then purchase we will receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for reading & supporting Happy Living!