It’s August 1985. I’ve just graduated from high school and have headed off to college at Catholic University in Washington, DC. Homesick, immature and not at all sure where life is headed, I dive full-on into my freshman year of college soccer.
We were a Division 3 program, playing a virtually exclusive Division 1 schedule against the powerhouse teams in the DC area. And their rosters were loaded with premier players, some who represented their national teams. It was a weekly challenge I eagerly anticipated, and an environment in which I thrived.
Thank goodness for soccer, as it kept me afloat as I struggled through homesickness and simply growing up my first two years of college. As time slowly ticked away my first two years, I watched from afar as many of my good friends were back home playing for Seattle Pacific University, a Division 2 soccer powerhouse. In 1986, my sophomore year at Catholic U, SPU won their 4th NCAA Division 2 National Championship. I wanted to transfer home and put into motion what it would take to do so.
As it sometimes goes, I transferred home for my junior and senior seasons, but we were knocked out of the national tournament before I had the chance to lift that coveted trophy.
The end of my college career left me in a spot of “now what” as I spent a couple of years trying to continue my playing career, while at the same time figuring out where I was headed for my real career.
As I finally hung up the boots and moved into coaching full-time, I found myself trying to figure out what avenue of fitness and competitiveness I was going to use to fill the void that my playing career once provided.
I would walk daily through my neighborhood, starting at two miles a day, adding more mileage as I found myself wanting to push myself more. This was a routine I kept up for many years until my life took on some challenges, and I found myself searching for more time and space away to process some of the challenges going on in my life.
Enter the mountains.
I’ve lived in Washington virtually my entire life. I’ve been super fortunate to travel to almost every state and many foreign countries, and every time I return home to Washington, I know I have it great here. It’s just an awesome place to live, especially if you love the outdoors. And I LOVE the outdoors!
So in 2013, I got my real first taste of hiking. Hard to believe I know, but I was a late bloomer when it comes to locals hiking in Washington. I was so excited that I started a spreadsheet to keep track of the hikes I would enjoy. I loved every minute of getting out in the hills in 2013 – it was great for me, and I knew I had found something that was near and dear to my soul. Those five hikes I went on had a huge impact on me – yup, five hikes! It’s almost comical to look at it now, but I had to start somewhere, and the 40 miles and 10,000 feet of gain I charted was the beginning of what has been a most incredible journey…..a life-altering love affair with the outdoors.
In successive years I found myself pulled to the outdoors every chance I could get. 2014 found me on the trail on 16 different occasions, racking up 113 miles and 28,000 feet of gain. I was on cloud 9! In year two I tripled what I had done in year one! Thus was born the challenge and competitiveness I had been searching for since ‘retiring’ from soccer.
Energized now, I hit the trail in 2015 for 314 miles and 101,000 feet of gain. Now I was really onto something. Sure, the fitness and challenges I took on were great, but the time outdoors was calming, peaceful and a place where I could go to live in the moment and get my life on track for where I wanted to head.
It so happened at this time that I had some blood work done and found I had high cholesterol. I was ignorant on the topic but quickly came to realize I had some hereditary cholesterol and if I didn’t make some diet and exercise changes, I would be headed for medication. Challenge accepted!
So 2016 found me on the trail for 857 miles and 301,000 feet of gain. Crazy awesome every mile was! And to boot, my cholesterol numbers were improving – without medication. Diet adjustments were made, but the increased activity on the trails was really making a difference.
I continued to find peace and comfort on the trail and found myself driven to get out even more. 2017 had me out for 1,000 miles and 332,000 feet of gain. This great adventure of hiking had continued to find me reaping countless benefits. One of those was an incredible increase in my fitness level. I push myself hard on the trails and found myself upping my hikes from 8-10 miles per outing to 15, then occasionally over 20, and soon to follow 30.
As my fitness continued to improve I pondered, ‘what can I do with this fitness level?’ So I did a couple of outings in the Grand Canyon, rim to river to rim….and I loved it! What the canyon delivered in my time there is close to indescribable. I also became exposed to the R3 in the canyon. At first, I didn’t know what it was, but I quickly learned and in the spring of 2017 with a great friend, we completed our first R3, 47 miles, 17 hours, and one phenomenal day!
Late 2017 brought kidney donation to my doorstep. Through a series of events, it became clear to me that donation was squarely on my agenda.
I fractured my wrist in 2016 and received donor tissue to reconstruct it. Life changer!
I watched from the front row as my mom received an unbelievable amount of donated blood to keep her alive during her two bouts with cancer. (Way to go, mom -kicking cancer’s butt!!!) Life changer!
A friend shared with me about her very positive personal experience as a kidney donor. Life changer!
I was then blessed to meet her kidney recipient and to hear from her firsthand about this life-saving gift. Big Life changer!
That was it; I was sold. It was my turn to hop into the arena and get busy helping someone just like others had helped me, and my mom. I began seeking out more information, met several extraordinary people and just knew that this was a cause in which I was going to get involved.
And so here I am, three months away from my donation day of January 2, 2019. I continue to be inspired by all things kidney: those who’ve donated, those who are advocating, those who’ve received and had their life saved, and those waiting who are pleading with us to spread the word to donate!
I look forward to the next three months, and whatever life brings after that. I’ll continue to be inspired to help spread the good news on kidney donation, and I fully plan on taking on some of my major goals post donation: summiting Mt. Rainier, climbing Kilimanjaro, and trekking to Everest Base Camp. Until next time I’ll leave you with this John F. Kennedy quote: “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”
So awesome that you are doing this! It’s humbling to see how people you love are helped by strangers. I donated my kidney about 3 months ago, I was pain free after a week and then back to running in a month. I hope your recovery will be just as smooth!
As someone whose life was unalterably changed by the fact that a donor was not available to save my daughter’s life, I applaud you for the steps you are taking to save a life. Organ donation is one thing I am extremely passionate about and I share posts on a regular basis from Donate Life; also wear a green bracelet to encourage organ donation. God Bless you and the great work you are doing – although I would expect nothing less considering the way your parents raised you. xoxo Pat Slusser