By Maxwell Svec, One Summit Manager, Strategic Programs & Events
Our fourth and final Climb for Courage (CFC) program for 2022 was long in the making. Launching our first climb in Virginia Beach was initially scheduled for July 2020. But like with so many other plans, Covid had other intentions and delayed our inaugural climb in the area for over two years. So, we were thrilled to kick off November by finally and officially joining the incredible Virginia Beach community with our nineteenth Climb for Courage program. It was a weekend filled with new connections, excitement, energy, and long-lasting smiles!
Gathered near Town Center were 14 patients and siblings, 19 Navy SEAL mentors, and 6 Team Leaders and volunteers. The enthusiasm was palpable from the moment the first family entered the building. One child didn't even make it past the second set of entryway doors before stopping in his tracks, eyes wide and mouth gaping, as he stared in awe at the 60-foot walls towering high above him. As the SEALs hid quietly out of sight, our newest little warriors eagerly awaited their chance to meet them. As the event began, thunderous applause erupted as the kids walked through the gauntlet of beaming mentors. The roar was a sure sign of an exciting day ahead of us!
As the mentees met their mentor matches, the group was divided into four teams, each working to create unique names for themselves. With fierce titles like The Panthers, The Giant Warriors, The Climbing Hawks, and The Squirrely Green Lions, we knew we had a fantastic group of climbers on our hands! Next came looking through Courage Packs, donning camo helmets and hats, and getting fitted for a harness, followed quickly by the first ascents.
The next few hours flew by from there, bursting with joyfulness and vibrancy. The little warriors and their mentors conquered challenges, both big and small. The pairs had the support of five floating mentors who bounced from one group to the next, offering encouragement and an extra set of hands to those who needed it. No matter their role in the day, I overheard mentors say to each other repeatedly that none of the kids in the gym seemed to have any fear, and what I was seeing confirmed as much.
Whether the goal was to take one step off the ground, row an impressive 5,000 meters on the rowing machine, or race their sister or brother to the top, each limitation seemed to fall to the wayside, no match for the determination and resiliency that filled the air. Some pairs enjoyed the simplicity of a conversation in a quiet corner of the gym. Others encouraged their sibling from below as they attempted to reach the top. Omnipresent were the roaring cheers that reverberated off the walls. No matter where you were in the gym, you knew with certainty when someone had achieved something extraordinary.
While this was only my second visit to Virginia Beach, it's easy to see that it's a special community. Everyone here at One Summit kept saying to each other during and after the event that this was a remarkable group of families and an exceptional team of mentors. It was a meeting of many people from across the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area who came together and found incredible chemistry. There were moments of considerable connection between mentees and mentors but between families as well.
Covid has been tough on the cancer community. Many families have not been able to cross paths in the hospital due to the protocols in place to curb the spread of germs. One of my favorite moments of the day was listening to one family describe meeting another family at Climb for Courage. Both families had a child with the same diagnosis and surgery complications. They had never met another family with the same diagnosis, facing the same challenges. It was incredible to hear that the climb had brought together two families that were able to connect and find support with each other.
As parents and caregivers slowly trickled back into the gym, they found their children and proudly cheered them on as they continued to tackle climbs. Many parents commented that they couldn't believe how fast their children were scaling the walls above and how high they could go. As is customary, the event came to a close with a special pinning ceremony, each mentor bestowing upon their mentee a trident, a sacred symbol for Navy SEALs. Something tells me that those tridents are now sacred for the little warriors, symbolizing their hard work, bravery, and resilience. This final pinning ceremony of 2022 truly felt like the successful beginning of a beautiful relationship between One Summit and the Virginia Beach/Norfolk community. There are many amazing things in store for the future.
The feedback from families and mentors immediately following the climb illustrates our mission's impact. The below testimonials strengthen our commitment to improving outcomes for our resilient little warriors with year-round support.
We haven't had fun like that in a while. It was much needed. – Parent
My most memorable moment [of the day] was when I pinned my mentee, and she smiled ear to ear. – Navy SEAL Mentor
Before, I felt nervous. Now I feel confident! – Little Warrior
After their experience at Climb for Courage, both of my kids exhibited a better/positive attitude. – Parent
My most memorable moment was hearing my mentee say, "today was the best day of my life." - Navy SEAL Mentor
One Summit did an amazing job matching my kids up with SEALs. My son especially had an amazing time, and he is my kid who would much prefer to sit on a video game than do anything physical. His SEAL really connected with him. It was wonderful. – Parent
[Climb for Courage] is impactful not only to the kids involved, but it also impacts the mentors in a huge way. Nothing is more inspiring than seeing these kids overcome their fears, forget about their situations, and accomplish the goals they set for the day. – Navy SEAL Mentor
I was nervous before but happy now because I faced my fear. This is the best day ever because I have never been to a place like this before! – Little Warrior
My most memorable moment was watching the kids that were reserved when we first met them become very relaxed and talkative by the end of the day. Watching them have that much fun and accomplish so much in a short time was incredible. - Navy SEAL Mentor
We are incredibly grateful to Love Your Melon for helping us create such a wonderful experience for our little warriors and Navy SEAL mentors. Love Your Melon was our sole sponsor for this Climb for Courage event, thanks to a generous grant they awarded One Summit in 2019. Although the Covid pandemic delayed the launch of our climb in Virginia Beach, you were steadfast in your support of our program, and we couldn't have successfully launched our first climb here without your contributions. We also appreciate your donation of hats—as you can see, they were a big hit!
We are sending our profound gratitude and appreciation to the staff at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters (CHKD) for believing in our mission and helping to get our flyers and program information into the hands of the amazing families who receive treatment there. We feel so fortunate to have CHKD in our corner! In addition, we want to give a huge thank you to Latitude Climbing and Fitness. When expanding to the Virginia Beach market, One Summit chose to support a military-owned establishment to further align with our commitment to the community. Your staff was incredibly helpful, kind, and wonderful, and your gym was such a bright and beautiful backdrop to the entire event.
Are you interested in participating in an upcoming Climb for Courage? Apply on our website or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!