-Stephanie Urchick, California, Pennsylvania (2020-2021 Rotary International Board of Directors)
I love this quote from Stephanie and ever since I heard her say it, I cannot stop repeating it.
Yes, sometimes it gets me into a little trouble and yes, I sometimes overcommit (more than I want to admit) but we only get one lifetime.
2020 has been a tragic year with a few glimpses of positivity, one of which is prioritizing our lives.
This project was born from a litany of failed attempts at the awesome and extreme. One of my first awesome and extreme ideas was to build a moat around the cabin at my cousin's house. Sure, it was on private land with no immediate threat of invasion during the mid-90's, but a moat would really distinguish the place and improve the property value...deep within the Western Pennsylvania forest.
Fast forward several years into young adulthood and I wanted to live in a tiny house, on wheels. Keep in mind, this was before Tiny Homes were cool and you would watch their construction on TV. I wanted to build a tiny house and have an online community watch the build process, and then tow it across America as we visited underprivileged school communities and bring books to address issues of illiteracy. But alas, despite my EXTENSIVE research and planning, it involved too many parts and too much charity from various parties because (sadly) I am not wildly rich, nor do I know anyone that fits the description.
A tweak. A change. A compromise. A disappointment.
Have you been there?
Then in the late summer of 2019, my wife and I came to terms with...our weight.
We decided to take on a weight loss program that our dear friend, Amanda, was doing. She was having excellent results so we were excited to finally take more control of our lives.
Within this program, it has some self-assessment work and goal setting. Within the goal setting section it posed the question: What is something you never thought you could accomplish?
I don't know why. I never showed interest before. But for some reason I wrote down HIKE THE ENTIRE APPALACHIAN TRAIL.
From that moment I began doing lots of research. I had never gone hiking before. No formal hiking, at least. Sure, I've gone camping and taken walks in the woods, but never carried gear in and packed it out. (Although, I did work as a garbage man for two years and draw on that experience of incredibly long days with unforgiving weather and even less forgiving body odor.) Based on my life experiences, I was ready for the challenge.
But there was one more thing: Rotary.
I really love Rotary.
For someone who isn't in Rotary or a member who hasn't found that passion for service, it is really challenging to understand.
I love the people. The projects. The changes that are made in communities and the lives of others.
As much as I would look forward to disconnect from the world, hike the trail, and embark on some Thoreau soul searching, I wanted my hike to have a purpose greater than myself. In Rotary, we use the motto: Service Above Self.
I wanted to do something that contributed to the world in a way that I could never do alone, but with Rotary I knew would be possible.
So I decided to make my thru-hike a cause driven fundraiser. But which cause to choose? Sure, I am passionate about climate change and social justice but I wanted to set realistic goals (I learned something from the failed moat).
How about eradicating a crippling viral disease?
In fact, as you chuckle reading this, that is exactly what happened between Rotary International and the World Health Organization. Rotary made a proposition in the early 80's that they wanted to partner with WHO to eradicate the wild polio virus, since it was preventable by vaccine (incurable once infected). WHO laughed, saying that it would be impossible and dismissed the issue. But Rotary went ahead with their mission. One community at a time. Soon enough entire countries were becoming polio free (no new cases of polio for at least three years).
Rotary was accomplishing the impossible. Others began to notice and momentum grew. Infections have decreased 99.99%
Which brings us to today: September of 2020.
Currently, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last two countries with active cases of polio. The finish line is within sight.
Completing the trail would be awesome but completing the trail and raising money to make tomorrow a healthier place would be...me.
My late grandfather, Kenny Long, was a special man:
Perceptive. Loving. Hard working. Ethical. Faithful. And much more.
I mention him because my mother shared an interesting story about how he attempted to take me, as a toddler, on a walk. I was stubborn and headstrong and refused to hold his hand and walk his pace. As the month became years and I developed a personality, Pap Kenny put it, "He'll go far. He doesn't really take no for an answer."