Linda Rinaldi was diagnosed, by routine mammogram, with stage II breast cancer in the spring of 1998. She underwent surgery and radiation and tried to get back to life as usual, but felt lost and unsure of her future. Soon after completing treatment, Linda was introduced to The Breast Cancer Fund's (BCF) hikes through an ad in MAMM Magazine. Her first hike, just 7 months after completing treatment, was the BCF's "Hike For Healing" in Wyoming. The hike reinvigorated her, giving her a sense of connection with other breast cancer survivors. After this experience, BCF founder and director, Andrea Martin, convinced Linda to join the team that would climb Mount Fuji in Japan, in August of 2000. She agreed, and found the experience to be overwhelmingly positive. (Read about Linda's climb up Mt. Fuji.)
The experience was so positive for Linda that she wanted to share it with her friends and family and other people in her shoes. The San Francisco based BCF had never had a hike in the New Jersey area, and the New Jersey terrain wasn't exactly mountainous. Linda spoke to Andrea Martin about her idea for an east coast hike. "It's not how high the mountain is, it is the journey that counts," Andrea assured her, and the first New Jersey Peak Hike was born. The Peak Hikes allow people to participate who could never partake in the larger mountain climbs. Participants ranging from children to the elderly can come together to meet the hike's goal of raising awareness and providing support and inspiration.
Linda, along with Mary Ann Castimore (a member of the BCF team that hiked Mt. McKinley), organized the Peak Hike 2001 at Delaware Water Gap, New Jersey. The event attracted 98 hikers, both men and women, including survivors, daughters, husbands, and nurses. Peak Hike 2001 raised $65,000, fifty percent of which supported programs in the New Jersey area, while the remaining fifty percent supported national programs. Locally, two grants were given to support risk assessment programs. One of these programs is the REMEMBER Program at Pascack Valley Hospital (learn more at the Pascack Valley Hospital website).
Response from last year's hikers was overwhelmingly positive. Many said they hoped to return this year with friends or family. The organizers of the hike hope to double the participation and money raised, allowing them to provide funding for an inner city hospital to provide free risk assessments to the community, amongst other local programs.
Peak Hike 2002 will be held on October 19th at Worthington State Forest in northern New Jersey. Participants are encouraged to register ahead, but all are welcome. For more information, or to register visit the BCF Peak Hike 2002 on OncoLink's conference announcement page.
The rainy, dreary weather on the morning of the 2002 Peak Hike did not prevent the 127 hikers from having a wonderful and inspiring time. Participants were treated to breakfast, energy bars, and bottled water to get them off to a roaring start. Lunch and raffle items greeted the participants after the hike. Event coordinators, Linda Rinaldi and MaryAnn Castimore, collected donations over the past year for the treats from Luna Bars, B&G Foods, and silver springs Bottling Company. Linda even met a truck driver who volunteered to drive his truck to Melrose Park, Illinois, where the Silver Springs Bottling Company is located, to pick up the donated water and drive it to New Jersey! Friends and family manned the registration, food, and raffle booths. A local sorority volunteered to man the trail, guiding and encouraging participants along the route. A co-worker of Linda's brought her band to the event and provided post-hike entertainment. The 2002 Peak Hike raised $40,000 to date (although they are still accepting donations at www.breastcancerfund.org!), which will be distributed to breast cancer organizations in the local community.
The many hikers had their own reasons for participating, all touched by the disease in one way or another. Haddon Township High School senior Marissa White lost her 33-year-old cousin, Rachel, to breast cancer this past summer. Rachel left behind a husband and a 5-year-old son. Linda Rinaldi, Peak Hike coordinator, had carried a prayer flag for Rachel on the Mount Fuji climb and suggested that Marissa might enjoy taking part in the 2002 Peak Hike. Marissa took it one step further and rallied her field hockey teammates together to participate in the Peak Hike. The group of 30 hikers wore red and white t-shirts (their school colors) designed by Marissa to commemorate the hike, with a tribute to Rachel on the sleeve. The girls had raised almost $3000 in the three weeks before the event. The day was ultimately about the breast cancer cause and working as a team to raise money for the Breast Cancer Fund. One of the girls summed it up by saying "We've all worked together to do something that's bigger than all of us combined."
The Peak Hike will return to New Jersey next fall - check back with OncoLink's conference and meeting announcements for details. Check the Breast Cancer Fund's website for upcoming fundraisers and events.