Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Healthy Hikers leads students, parents to top

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 7/19/2013

It wasn’t easy, but it sure was fun, Todd Craig said.

Craig and his daughter Caitlyn, a soon-to-be sixth-grader at West Franklin Middle School, recently hiked Mt. Elbert in Leadville, Colo., with the Healthy Hikers group, he said. Robert Allen, principal of Williamsburg Elementary School, recently formed the group of fourth- and fifth-grade students from Williamsburg and Appanoose elementary schools.

It wasn’t easy, but it sure was fun, Todd Craig said.

Craig and his daughter Caitlyn, a soon-to-be sixth-grader at West Franklin Middle School, recently hiked Mt. Elbert in Leadville, Colo., with the Healthy Hikers group, he said. Robert Allen, principal of Williamsburg Elementary School, recently formed the group of fourth- and fifth-grade students from Williamsburg and Appanoose elementary schools.

“[Climbing Mt. Elbert] was harder than I expected, but it was enjoyable and it’s something I think me and my daughter want to do again,” Craig said. “I lost 50 pounds training for the climb.”

Caitlyn Craig was one of 28 students who passed her training to go on the hike, and Todd Craig was one of about 14 parent sponsors that went, organizers said. Not everybody made it to the top of the summit, but Craig and her father did, they said.

“Climbing a mountain is probably one of the hardest things you could ever do. Not just physically, but mentally,” Caitlyn Craig said. “You just have to want to make it to the top or you won’t. Making it to the top is just amazing. It’s so cool that after all your hard work you can see everything for miles.”

Allen decided to form the Healthy Hikers group last year after the Healthy Habits grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield came across his desk, he said.

“I saw the grant and thought, ‘Hmm, what could I do with this?’” Allen said. “I thought, ‘You know, this would be good thing for kids,’ and I saw the grant and said, ‘Lets do this and climb a mountain.’”

The grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield was only for $1,000, so Allen knew he would have to find other ways to get the rest of the money, he said.

“Students got other donations and grants and they raised closed to $10,000,” he said. “So many of our kids from Appanoose and Williamsburg are disadvantaged. I suspected a whole bunch [of students] had never been out of Franklin County, so I thought if I could [pay for the trip] for them that that would be really cool.”

Allen raised enough money for all 28 students and 14 parent sponsors to go to Colorado and only had to pay for a few supplies and one meal, he said. Raising money was the easy part, the training, Allen said, was a whole different story.

“It was rugged training,” he said. “[Students] had an educational part and physical part. They had to log a certain amount of miles, and we logged more and more as we got closer to the time to leave. We started with 20 miles and we would meet every other week.”

Before students left for the trip they all had to pass the physical and educational exams to ensure they were prepared for the strenuous hike, Allen said.

“Students received first aid training, nutrition classes from a dietician and classes on conservation from Kansas Parks and Services,” he said. “And I would teach about hiking and safety and things like that.”

The group left on June 28 for its adventure and climbed Mt. Elbert — which at 14,440 feet is the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains — Sunday morning, Allen said.

“Sunday morning we got up at 3 a.m. because we had to hit the summit before noon because lots of storms roll in there,” he said. “Of those 28 kids, every kid made it above the tree line. At 12,000 feet, that’s quite an accomplishment. Ten kids made it to the top. We had some tears and some puking.”

Allen said he was proud of the kids for accomplishing such a feat, as well as the parents, some of whom he said, didn’t realize it was going to be so difficult.

“I was happy with the kids because they all made it at least four miles up,” he said. “We ended up with a bunch of tough, strong kids who pushed themselves to a limit they didn’t realize they had. We had grown people saying ‘this is the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life.’”

It wasn’t Allen’s first time climbing Mt. Elbert, he said, but it was an experience not like any other with the students and parents with him. The group no longer meets since it reached its goal, he said, but it wouldn’t take much to get Allen to get a new group together.

“I could be encouraged to get it started again,” he said. “I think the kids had such a great time and experience it would be hard to say I wouldn’t do it again. Because if I don’t do it, who will?”

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