More Than a Trail

Story by Heather Wakeley

This was my first year taking part in the WNY Hiking Challenge.  I have always enjoyed being outside and getting in touch with nature. Although the desire was there most times I could come up with one excuse or another not to hit the trails. I was becoming adventurous in spirit only.

Learning of the challenge on the news in March my interest peaked. This is exactly what I needed to give me that purpose and that reason to visit places I had never been to or even heard of and explore.

I decided to write about my experience and send that along with a photo album to my friends and family so that they could take part as well. In doing this I realized so much more about myself and my surroundings. Each hike became more meaningful and memorable. Hiking is so much more than just following a trail to the challenge point and crossing it off the list. It truly is a mental challenge some days to just get out there, others to overcome the physical aspects whether it be the distance, terrain or weather and every now and then finding the trail head! Each brings with it a sense of accomplishment, excitement, physical conditioning, relaxation and solitude that can be found nowhere else. I also found that while hiking you are truly living in the moment as photos, words on paper, drawings and memories merely capture the essence of the experience.

Early this fall I was filled with a renewed sense of interest and determination to finish the 11 remaining hikes, most of which were furthest from my home. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I knew deep within that I had to finish this challenge so that I could complete my next life changing challenge that was before me. There were many 100 mile trips for testing, consultations and my first surgery. As I continued to hike I found calmness in the woods, the only place that made any sense.

I knew deep within that I had to finish this challenge

I am proud to say that I was able to finish my last 4 hikes while undergoing rigorous chemotherapy treatment. On October 10 after reaching the waterfall at Lockport Nature Trails I walked back to my truck with tears in my eyes, having just completed the hiking challenge and more.

While chemotherapy robbed me of much, it simply could not touch my grit and determination.

While chemotherapy robbed me of much, it simply could not touch my grit and determination.

I will be signing up for the Winter Challenge, my course of treatment continues as does my determination.

5 thoughts on “More Than a Trail”

  1. I am so proud of you for completing the challenges, and I know you are going to conquer the challenge of breast cancer as well. You’ve got this! I love you my friend.

  2. Heather, your dad and I are so proud of the challenges you faced head on and with true accomplished your goal and you will with the winter one as well..You had a bump in the road and hurled over it like you have so many others..We know you will continue on to put the medical challenge behind you soon and go ahead with whatever your dreams are..You are an amazing woman and we are proud to call you our daughter.
    Much love forever ❤️
    Mom and Dad

  3. Eileen M. Charleton

    You amaze me, Heather! What powerful inspirations you have shared. I, and so many others, have your back and will accompany you during your challenge with cancer and the winter challenge. You are a strong, adaptable person. I am so proud of you, my friend!

  4. Kimberly LaMendola

    Hi Heather! We met you today on Osgood Trail in Allegany State Park and immediately could sense a beautiful spirit within you. Thank you for sharing your story and for lighting the path forward for many others who may be stepping in the forest, onto trails carrying far more than what we can see with our eyes. Keep on moving forward, even if it feels like an inch at a time. Smooth trails ahead for you and wishes for strong health in 2022! Kimberly and Kellie (and dog Dharma Jai).

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