Columbia – During the week, Mel Blackwell is an 8th grade physical/earth science teacher at Lexington Middle School, but most weekends you can find him in the woods. Inspired by losing a student to cancer, Blackwell became a volunteer coach for CureSearch’s Ultimate Hike. This spring, he will train a team to trek 28.3 miles of the beautiful, but challenging, Foothills Trail in one day, all to raise funds to end children’s cancer.
Like most people, Blackwell has personally felt the impact of cancer, having lost both his father and brother. Unfortunately, he’s seen children’s cancer and how it can change a family as well. A few months prior to his first Ultimate Hike, a former student lost her battle. Inspired by his student and the challenge of such a long trek and raising funds, Blackwell signed up for his first Hike in 2013 at age 58.
He quickly discovered that the miles and the fundraising were not a problem, raising more than any other Hiker that year. CureSearch staff took note of his calm demeanor and ease on the trail as well. “Mel is an incredibly competent Hiker and very self-aware,” said Brecka Putnam, CureSearch’s Hike Manger. “He has a natural ability to identify people who might be struggling and help reach their goals.” Based on those qualities, CureSearch staff asked Blackwell to become Columbia’s coach the next year.
Since 2013, Blackwell has traveled across the country to assist CureSearch with hikes, and the Foothills Trail Hike will be his 10th Ultimate Hike – and he’s not showing any signs of stopping. “The sense of community and the relationships I’ve established keep me coming back each year. It gives me a true sense of purpose,” said Blackwell.
His background in science helps him realize the importance of CureSearch’s research. “Funding pediatric cancer research is extremely important because there are so many different types of children’s cancer. There is not a one size fits all solution,” continued Blackwell.
The 2017 Ultimate Hike was the largest one to date, and Blackwell and team hope to raise even more critical funds in 2018. To learn more about Ultimate Hike and how you can join Mel Blackwell on the trail this year, join Hike team members at an informational meeting at Palmetto Conservation Foundation Monday, January 22 at 6:00 p.m. or at The Backpacker Quality Gear on Tuesday, January 23 at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.ultimatehike.org/foothills.
About the Ultimate Hike
In its eighth year, CureSearch’s Ultimate Hike is the original 28.3 mile endurance fundraiser on the Foothills Trail, and the only national endurance hiking fundraiser to fight cancer, the number one disease killer of children.
About CureSearch for Children’s Cancer
CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, a national nonprofit organization based in Bethesda, Md., works to end childhood cancer by driving targeted and innovative research with measurable results in an accelerated time frame. CureSearch focuses on advancing the strongest research out the laboratory and into clinical trials and development, where better, less-toxic treatments can quickly help children.
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