By Christina Parker, One Summit Contributor and Team Leader
Three simple words…but three of the most challenging words to live by. Three words that Navy SEALs and pediatric cancer warriors live and breathe by. Three words that build resilience, strength, and fortitude, fueling courage, hope, and bravery, no matter the sacrifice. YOU. DON’T. QUIT.
When times are hard, find the strength to be stronger. When times are tough, muster the courage to be even tougher. Our mentees and mentors are connected through their demonstration of courage and bravery, and these three simple words are their common ground. That is what mentor Scott Rathke and little warrior Kimi Schroders’ unique bond was formed over: you don’t quit. These words gave them strength in each other and hope for the future.
Meet Scott and Jennie Rathke.
Scott is a retired SEAL who dedicated 20 years of service to the United States Navy. He and his wife, Jennie, began volunteering for One Summit in 2017: Scott as a mentor and Jennie as a Team Leader. Scott and Jennie quickly realized how special One Summit was and how incredible and impactful their mission was.
Scott: “Climb for Courage is one day where these children can simply be KIDS, and they look up to you with all they have, trying with everything they have to climb, and SEALs having the opportunity to help with that—it’s a great experience.”
Jennie: “I love One Summit for their focus on relationships. It’s always been apparent to me the resilience needed to become a member of the SEAL teams, but I was introduced to a whole other level of resiliency, courage, and determination working with kids fighting cancer and their families. The pairing of these communities is genius and so rewarding.”
Kimi was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma in 2010. She courageously and fearlessly fought this battle, with a warm smile and the sweetest light in her eyes, until 2019. At just 12 years old, Kimi lost her battle with cancer. During her precious time here, she became one of One Summit’s most loyal and enthusiastic little warriors, attending two San Diego Climb for Courage programs and volunteering to be the keynote speaker at one of the mentor welcome dinners. Kimi exhibited wisdom well beyond her years. Despite enduring rounds of chemotherapy and battling cancer, she approached conversations with a sense of humor that was rare for most children in her situation. Rather than dwelling on her hardships, she remained focused on her bright future and her life ahead. Kimi exemplified resilience in every sense of the word.
Scott referred to it as ‘divine intervention’ when he was paired with Kimi to become her mentor at the San Diego Climb for Courage. He had no idea, at the time, the profound and enduring impact Kimi would have on him and how much he would come to cherish their time spent together. He first met Kimi at One Summit’s mentor welcome dinner in San Diego, where she was the keynote speaker. Let’s repeat that—at just 11 years old, she was the headlining speaker at a dinner flooded with strangers and Navy SEALs—and Kimi challenged THEM:
“I am the queen of rock climbing, so you better bring your A game.”
Scott was in awe. He was astonished by her unwavering courage to speak to a room full of strangers and her remarkable resilience and positivity in the face of her battle with cancer. It was immediately clear to him that this 11-year-old girl was truly extraordinary. She was filled with humor and light, all while fighting an enduring fight.
Jennie: “Kimi was super energetic and fierce at the climb. She told Scott that he was going to have to chase her and keep up—and she meant it. She climbed to the top of every wall. I only remembered she had cancer when she would get out of breath or needed longer breaks in between as the day went on. Kimi seemed like an old soul. She was very wise and articulate. She was a selfless, kind soul.”
Scott: “In all her life, Kimi would never let cancer limit or define her.” And that was Kimi’s exact outlook and perspective at her last Climb for Courage with Scott. “She climbed as much as her body would let her, and at times, her heart and mind wanted to keep going, but eventually, her body needed to take a break. She said she needed to save her energy for the big swing drop at the end of the climb. Throughout the climb, Kimi never complained—not once. She always made jokes.”
Scott’s friendship with Kimi continued long after the Climb for Courage. He stayed in touch throughout the months leading up to his deployment and while away overseas. To Scott, Kimi was a constant reminder of what true selflessness meant. During every phone call, Kimi never mentioned her struggles and hardships—not a single time. She focused on Scott, never bringing up her ongoing fight for her life. She asked questions and cracked jokes; she brought light and joy to their conversations…that was Kimi.
Scott: “Her smile and enthusiasm carried me. Her determination to never give up while telling me how proud she was of me. I always kept in the back of my mind how nothing compared to what Kimi was going through.”
Jennie: “The letters she wrote Scott were very detailed and caring. It meant so much to me that she kept in touch through deployment. She was going through so much with her health but was concerned about him.”
Kimi passed away in 2019 while Scott was deployed.
Scott: “Her determination to not give up, it goes back to what being a SEAL is all about: YOU DON’T QUIT. A lot of people want the secret on how to become a Navy SEAL. One thing you need to know to make it through: just never quit. I saw the same drive in Kimi. It didn’t matter how hard it was or how much pain she felt—she never quit. She knew it would be easy to quit, but she was determined to not give up. Success in life isn’t about how talented you are. What’s important, and what defines you, is your ability to not give up…you don’t quit.”
Kimi never quit. And neither have Scott and Jennie. Their relationship and volunteer work with One Summit continues to grow.
Scott: “Seeing so many kids, and their resilience while battling cancer, to never give up—it makes me proud to give back and be involved. Their drive fuels my drive.”
Jennie: “I am always blown away by how funny, articulate, and brave each child is. I feel honored to have been able to assist in building these relationships. I have learned so much from chatting with families and hearing stories.”
Click here to read more about Kimi's time with One Summit. Share the Rathke's story about their relationship with Kimi to inspire resilience across your own network. Do you have your own story of resilience? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered for our next Profiles in Resilience blog.