Pikes Peak Challenge

As I am not married, I have no children, my family and I are relatively healthy, and I am fortunate enough to have a rewarding job, loving boyfriend and fantastic family and friends…every now and then I start feeling just a little bit guilty about my level of freedom, security and flat-out luck. Everyone can say they’ve had ups and downs. Everyone can say they’ve experienced some bumps in the road. I know I can say I have fallen flat on my face more than once – and I’m probably not alone in that. But for the most part, I have lead a fairly lucky and charmed life, and whatever bruises or scars I’ve earned, my grossly optimistic nature thinks I am all the better for having them.

I realize that all are not so fortunate. And I know it’s impossible to help every homeless child and every battered woman; I know I can’t raise enough money alone to cure AIDS and cancer. And I probably can’t end world hunger or heal the ozone with the tomato plant on my deck. But I also know that every small part helps. And that if everyone felt responsible for “their part,” we might be in a better position as a world community.

When my friend John announced at our company staff meeting that he would be hiking Pikes Peak’s 13 miles and 7400 feet in elevation to raise money for brain injury awareness and then posed “Does anyone want to join me/” – the room was fairly silent. The idea of getting up at 4am to hike uphill for 6 hours left the room wondering “What’s the matter with John?” But as I am an experienced hiker who loves to conquer Colorado’s 13-ers and 14-ers, I decided that this was a good project for me – this was a way in which *I* could participate in bettering our world community. The Pikes Peak Challenge was on.

I enlisted the companionship of my dear friend Kelly who is also nuts enough to love hiking where the oxygen is in short supply. Over the course of several weeks of fundraising, our friends and family reached out and supported not only me and Kelly, but also those who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries. Working in a personal injury firm, it is all too often that I meet a client who has suffered such a tragedy. It is probably one of the most difficult injuries to deal with – for the bumps, bruises and scars experienced in the brain are impalpable to the average Joe. A brain injury isn’t like a broken leg or a lacerated arm that can evoke sympathy, empathy and assistance from strangers who offer to hold doors open and carry groceries. What goes on in the brain is impossible to see, and it is as invisible as it is mysterious to the doctors that study it. Hence, the Pikes Peak Challenge fundraiser.

Kelly and I got up before dawn and after setting my camping stove on fire (I have a knack for kitchen fires, both indoor and outdoor), we headed to 7-11 for coffee and hot water for our oatmeal and then drove to the designated meeting area. The perky volunteers at Manitou Springs’ Memorial Park handed us our bibs and wished us luck. The vans dropped us off at the trailhead, and the hiking commenced. Like donkeys with headlamps, Kelly and I trotted up the hillside. The scenery was gorgeous. The dark misty morning burned off as the sun rose over the cities below, and the chilly dawn warmed into a lovely 75-degree “bluebird.” Not a cloud in the sky threatened an afternoon storm, and Kelly and I pressed onward and upward.

Shortly after we broke treeline (about 10 miles in), we were needing some added encouragement to battle gravity. Alas, a Mexican fiesta of volunteers greeted us with bells and whistles at the 2-mile marker. It was then that we realized that of the 7400 feet in elevation, we had covered 5900 in the first 11 miles… and we had 1500 to go in just these last 2 miles. A challenge is a challenge, so Kelly and I ate another Clif Bar and proceeded upward. Pirates waved to us from above at the 1-mile marker and shared their booty of Starbursts and chocolate. 1 mile and 800 feet to go… When we finally reached the top, brain injury survivors and volunteers alike congratulated us, awarded us a gold medal and took our picture. They had hot soup, sugary snacks and cold gatorade for us, which made us feel good… but not as good as knowing that we had helped provide direct services to 2,000 brain injury survivors, families and professionals this year!

While we were waiting for the van to take us back down the mountain, we met a young man who was studying environmental engineering. He was personable and inquisitive; we started talking about what brought us to the Pikes Peak Challenge. Kelly relayed her personal story about a family member who had been affected by a traumatic brain injury. And I told our new friend about working at Bachus & Schanker and how sad I feel when I meet new clients whose families describe them as “not the same”… When we asked the tired hiker what his connection to the event was, he replied, “I am a survivor.” Our new buddy who had just conquered 13 miles and 7400 feet in elevation was once in Craig Hospital for 6 months. He was now getting his masters degree. He said the doctors really weren’t sure if he was fully recovered or not – it was just too hard to tell. This guy was living proof of not only why research needs to be done on the brain, but the possibilities of what a person can do if he is given the chance to heal and get better. Perhaps it was his will to get better that made him jump out of bed one day and head back to school. Perhaps it was genetics. Or maybe his destiny lay in what part of his brain the trauma affected. However you slice it, this guy was not just living and breathing, he was leaping off the page – and partly due to the help that the Brain Injury Association of Colorado provided him with funds collected from events like the Peaks Peak Challenge.

A personal thanks to Kyle Bachus and Darin Schanker as well as my friends and family who sponsored me for this challenge. Until the next time…

Jodie Sandell
Pre-Litigation Department Manager