Courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Sam Fox '09, a former All-East and All-Ivy high jumper for the Yale track and field team, will attempt to break the speed record for running/hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail this fall as part of an effort to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson's disease. Fox will attempt to travel the equivalent of 100 marathons' worth of miles in 60 days. He is undertaking the effort through the charitable organization he founded, Run While You Can, in honor of his mother, Lucy, who suffers from Parkinson's.
Fox's mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's, a degenerative neurological disorder, in 2000. On the Run While You Can website, he describes how she motivated him:
My mother was incredibly active throughout my childhood. My brother, sister and I struggled to keep up with her on trails, ski slopes, and when working around the house and garden. In recent years, as her symptoms have progressed, I've seen her ability to do the things she loves decline. Though I never hear her complain about her health, things have undoubtedly changed. My mother remains tough in the face of it all, and it is that toughness that inspires this project, and that toughness that should inspire all of us to run while we can.
Fox first began thinking of taking on the Pacific Crest Trail last fall. He was inspired in part by watching a documentary about Terry Fox (no relation), a 21-year-old who ran 3,339 miles across Canada in 1980 as a fundraiser for cancer after losing his leg to the disease. Terry Fox was attempting to make it all the way across Canada, but his cancer returned before he could complete the run and he passed away in 1981.
The Pacific Crest Trail runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. Fox will start his journey on Aug. 25 at the trail's northernmost point, in British Columbia's Manning Provincial Park. He aims to complete the trail in 60 days, finishing on Oct. 24 at Campo, Calif., on the Mexican border. The current speed record is 65 days.
In order to reach his goal Fox, 24, will have to average more than 40 miles and 16 hours a day, with an average daily elevation gain and loss of more than 16,000 vertical feet. Fewer people have successfully thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail than have reached the summit of Mt. Everest. In addition to the rough terrain, Fox will face obstacles ranging from extreme weather conditions to dangerous wildlife such as mountain lions and rattlesnakes.
Matching the physical challenge, Fox has set an ambitious fundraising goal for his Pacific Crest Trail journey: $250,000.
"I wanted something that seemed unreachable," said Fox, who has run, hiked, biked, skied and climbed in the Alps, the Rockies, the Canadian and American Cascades, the Sierras, the White Mountains and the Himalayas. "As I started to get an idea of what the physical aspect of the project entailed, I realized it would not be worth it unless I could raise a significant amount of money. $250,000 is enough to make a big impact."
Thanks to an anonymous corporate donor, donations between now and Aug. 25 will be matched (up to $20,000). As of Aug. 4 Fox had already raised nearly $60,000.
Proceeds from Fox's efforts will go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, a charity started by the actor in 2000 shortly after he went public with his own diagnosis with the disease. Sam Fox and Michael J. Fox are not related. The Foundation also happens to have a $50 million challenge in place right now thanks to a leadership gift from another former Yale student-athlete, women's ice hockey player Anne Wojcicki '96, and her husband, Sergey Brin.
"I chose the Michael J. Fox Foundation as the beneficiary because of their overwhelming public presence," Fox said. "They have brought Parkinson's disease to the forefront in America and are helping make strides towards treatment and a cure."
Fox notes that the research into Parkinson's also has helped with breakthroughs for other neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Fox founded Run While You Can this past January. It is a registered 501(c)3 charitable foundation whose stated mission is "to challenge the notion that a healthy tomorrow is promised to anyone, by creating awareness and financial support for events that emphasize the urgency of living fully today". Fox envisions growing the organization to help a wide variety of people who have seen their lives impacted or shortened in unfortunate ways, such as wounded war veterans.
A native of Rhode Island, Fox attended South Kingstown public schools and then The Wheeler School in Providence. At Yale he won a gold medal at the 2007 Penn Relays, then earned All-Ivy and All-East recognition while also qualifying for the NCAA East Regional Championships in 2009.
After spending time in Rhode Island and Colorado after graduation Fox eventually moved to Berkeley, Calif. But now he is living out of his car, with the majority of his possessions in a storage unit, as he spends the rest of August traveling to various points on the trail as training. During the hike, he will have a support vehicle meet him at predetermined checkpoints to provide food, medical attention and supplies. One of the people assisting him at these points is his former Yale track and field teammate Eric DePalo '10.
Fox's journey will be filmed as part of a feature-length documentary. He will be blogging throughout the trip, and updates will also be available through Run While You Can on Facebook and Twitter.
"Hopefully people are thinking it's impossible, so they'll be interested in following it," he said.
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