The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Xtreme Hike is a unique event that takes hikers through some of the most scenic trails in the nation to raise funds and awareness for cystic fibrosis. It is all about reaching new heights -- both physically and philanthropically.
This year, 29 CF Foundation chapters hosted an Xtreme Hike. More than 800 hikers took to the trails and raised more than $2.5 million dollars towards a cure for cystic fibrosis.
We caught up with first-time hiker Hal Leshner, who participated in the Delaware Valley Chapter's hike at Ricketts Glen State Park in Benton, Penn. The team that Hal hiked with, Team Ilene, was the chapter's top team, raising almost $35,000 in this third annual event.
Hal, what is your connection to cystic fibrosis?
My cousin is one year older than I am and was born with cystic fibrosis. Her cousin of the same age also has CF. Growing up, I often kept my cousin company during her PT, mist and other treatments. I remember helping her count out all of her pills before every meal.
Aunt Sandy, Becca (Hal's girlfriend), Hal, Ilene, Lee and Uncle Ed in the lobby of the hotel pre-hike.
Why did you decide to participate in CF Xtreme Hike?
This was the third year that my cousin with CF was doing the hike. Her first year, she turned 30 and hiked with my uncle (her father), who had turned 60. I was so amazed by this and how much money they raised. The following year, her brother Lee joined them and raised even more money.
I thought it would be great to hike alongside my family, but I also wanted to lose weight. I figured that if I could challenge myself physically while raising money for CF at the same time, that's even better.
How did you incorporate your own health into your fundraising?
Two years ago, I was sitting on the sidelines in awe of my cousins and uncle, and I so badly wanted to be a part of it. Prior to the hike, I challenged myself to get fit and lost 175 pounds! It's given me a new lease on life, and I am finally healthy. This hike was a great opportunity to further challenge myself.
My friends and family have been extremely supportive during my weight loss journey, so I decided to tailor my fundraising to this. I set a goal to raise $20 for every pound I lost. While I haven't reached the $3,500 yet, I am very close.
Did you learn anything new about CF, or the CF community, that you didn't know before?
I learned how vast the connections to CF are. I had been connected to CF through my family, but I met other people on the hike who had no direct connection to CF at all yet still found the cause worthwhile to devote their time and energy to raise money for a cure. I think that's amazing.
I am so proud that I was able to finish the hike -- it was a great accomplishment for me -- but I have to give credit to my cousin Ilene. She has battled CF her entire life and she is fearless. This hike was no exception. The hike was 20 miles long, and the last 4-5 were in the rain. Yet, she still had such a positive attitude. She was singing and so cheery … it really helped me get through the hike. To top it all off, she left at 6 a.m. the following morning to catch a plane for a wedding. I was nursing soreness I haven't felt in years, and she was still moving. Truly remarkable.