This morning I awoke in my apartment. It’s a bit of a change from the many days spent being pampered by Fairmont. Did Banff’s Big Mountain Challenge come and go, just like that? It sure did. And I know that it did because I’m ridiculously tired!
After our second attempt at Mount Temple and our successful ascent of Mount Eiffel, Dan and I transferred back to Banff. The last hike of the challenge was Sulphur Mountain, which is iconic for having the Banff gondola ride to the summit. On Monday morning, we were quite stoked that we had made it to the final hike. Only one more hike. A much shorter hike than Cascade, or Fairview and Saddleback, or the Tea House Challenge, or Sentinel Pass, or Mount Eiffel. One more hike and The Kidney Foundation of Canada would receive a cheque for $25,000. It was a good feeling.
The morning was filled with much excitement. A few friends made their way to Banff to join us for the final hike, and it was all hellos and hugs as we gathered at the trailhead. Global TV was on hand to film parts of the trek for a segment, and Jeff from Banff Lake Louise Tourism would accompany us to document the journey to the summit. Paul from Parks Canada was our guide, stopping occasionally to tell us about Sulphur Mountain, as well as the flora and fauna of the area. As always, there was lots of fun and laughter… and it was educational! Sulphur Mountain was more intense than I thought it would be due to its steady incline and many switchbacks, but we all persevered.
As we neared the top of Sulphur, the group of us gathered, ready to walk the remaining few metres together. I won this contest because of the support of many people, so it was quite symbolic to have a bit of an “entourage”, as we joked :). This contest was also never about just Dan and I. Yes, we did get to hike in the mountains for a week and enjoy the comforts and luxuries offered by Fairmont, but it was all to experience the beauty of Banff and Lake Louise and to tell others about how amazing these areas are, while keeping the ultimate goal in mind: supporting The Kidney Foundation of Canada. We reached the summit to the sounds of cheers and much applause. I knew there would be an event at the summit, but I don’t think I was quite expecting to feel so overwhelmed and so much joy at the end of the hike. I was even caught saying “Oh my God…” on camera! Stuart Hart, Director of Sales & Marketing Development at Banff Lake Louise Tourism, was there to lead the closing ceremony. The mayor of Banff, Karen Sorensen, was also there, as well as representatives from Brewster Travel Canada, Fairmont, Parks Canada, Global TV, Banff Crag & Canyon, and The Kidney Foundation. Some tourists were also present for the hoopla, taking photos and offering their congratulations.
Stu began his speech by thanking the sponsors, the media, and Dan and myself for a successful and rewarding event. There were many congratulations, hand shakes, and happy faces. It was an indescribable feeling to be standing there with friends, supporters and onlookers. We had just completed something amazing… something big; I knew that much. But I think I was a little beside myself the whole time. A huge thank you to all involved in putting this contest together, and to those present at the closing ceremony. It was then time for a photo op and the presentation of the cheque. I had heard through the grapevine that there would be a massive cheque, and there was!! This was extremely cool. I’ve seen on TV when people are presented with gigantic abnormally sized cheques for grandiose things, so it was quite awesome to help Stu hand over a cheque for $25000 to Diane Kashuba, Manager, Communications for The Kidney Foundation of Canada, Southern Alberta branch. (Actually, because of everyone’s kindness, the total raised/matched/won was $26,762. Incredible!) Once the presentation concluded, there were several media interviews with Global TV, Banff Crag and Canyon, and The Calgary Herald. It was all smiles for everyone involved.
I’ve been sitting here for a while, trying to reflect on the entire experience. I’m thinking about that initial e-mail from Dan informing me about the contest; the excitement of gaining votes for the competition; coming in second place, but then, by a twist of weird fate, being announced the winner; watching the amazing generosity and support for The Kidney Foundation during the donation phase; living in luxury at the Fairmont Banff Springs and Chateau Lake Louise; the incredible amount of hiking (about 65 km and 7 memorable hikes) I was able to do over seven days; all of the media attention; sharing this amazing experience with my good friend Dan; and reaching the summit of Sulphur Mountain, great friends by my side, and watching The Kidney Foundation receive a cheque for $25,000. Something that started so small with the submission of a photo turned into something so much more. I’ve met new people, either in person or via social media, and these encounters have moved me the most. It’s a pretty surreal feeling when I hear that someone has received two transplants before, and she is so happy that I’m helping raise awareness about organ donation and The Kidney Foundation; or when someone e-mails me to tell me that she has recently been diagnosed with kidney disease and that she is scared, but it makes her feel better knowing that there are individuals out there helping to combat this disease… and she’s referring to me as one of those individuals. I’ve come to know a mother who lost her son to kidney disease on the day of his scheduled transplant. She has honored her son’s exceptional life by creating a foundation in his name. How could I not be a little bit changed after this contest? The Big Mountain Challenge has occupied my mind for about three months, and I have to say it has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had, and unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I never enter contests, and so, I never win contests, ha! I’ve now been reminded that anything is possible. I really don’t know how to thank everyone who supported me, Dan, the Big Mountain Challenge, and The Kidney Foundation of Canada, except by saying a sincere “Thank You” :). This experience would not have been possible without you.