May 15, 2022

Compassion in the Canyon

I learned an amazing statistic Sunday: over 7 million visitors come to the Grand Canyon each year, but only 1% ever hike on any of its many trails.

The Grand Canyon is one of the eight wonders of the natural world, and the largest canyon in the world. It was formed over millions of years through the constant erosion of the Colorado River, which snakes at its bottom. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and attains a depth of over a mile, according to the National Park Services. People die there each year, mainly from heat exhaustion. When we hiked Sunday and Monday, temperatures were a worrisome 107°.

So what made us, a groups of members of the hemophilia community, go down into the Canyon?

It was a fundraiser to help Save One Life, the international nonprofit I founded 21 years ago. Our group consisted of 20 hikers, including five people with hemophilia, a few parents, friends, some pharmaceutical employees and some specialty pharmacy reps. Some people I knew, others I was just meeting for the first time. Some of us are avid hikers, and some almost never hiked.

Jeff Salantai with girlfriend Natalie; Jeff and Laurie hiked Kilimanjaro 11 years ago!

The heat was intense, like being in a microwave. The great thing about Arizona heat is how dry it is. Once you hit even a tiny bit of shade, you immediately cool down. And fortunately, the trail offered spots of shade as the canyon walls towered above us and protected us from the sun.

People hike for all kinds of reasons. One of them is to see the canyon from a different perspective, to appreciate nature’s beauty from an angle most people never see.

As I hiked along, I compared this idea to being in the hemophilia community: we see life from a different perspective. Constantly aware of pain, battling pain, trying to reach goals despite the many obstacles, seeing beauty in life despite the struggle, and most of all, depending on one another with compassion.

Braxton gets an infusion from dad Derek Nelson

Compassion, which in its Latin roots means “to suffer alongside of,” was the hallmark of our hike: some people really struggled in the heat and steepness of the hike, which took hours and hours. I myself, though constantly working out and hiking, also struggled at times with an inflamed back. Community members and teammates (our team was the “Bleeding Hearts”) stayed by those who struggled to encourage them, help them take one step at a time, hydrate them and ensure they made it. It was really beautiful to see.

Compassion is what Save One Life offers too, to those with bleeding disorders in developing countries. When Gene Taylor, the founder of iConquer, the outfitter that organized this excursion, complimented us on Save One Life’s work, I told him how our community is overflowing with compassion. Save One Life merely gives an outlet to extend that compassion to the world’s children with hemophilia who suffer.

Helping each other on the trail

We “one percenters,” as they call us, go into the canyon, on one of the hottest days, no doubt to see what we are made of, but also to see how much we share compassion with others: to function as a team, as a community, to those in need. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Thanks to Gene Taylor and iConquer, to Karen Serevitch at Save One Life, and to all the hikers who traveled so far to participate.

“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” Sir Edmund Hillary

We did it!

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