By Dianne Lynch, One Summit Executive Director
It’s been quite some time since I’ve sat back and taken the time to write and reflect on the impact and changes of the One Summit program since my arrival in 2017. On Saturday, February 11, 2023, we gathered at Vertical Hold outside San Diego to again build a new community of warriors. Nineteen US Navy SEALs helped us warmly welcome 16 patients & siblings; all sent our way thanks to our remarkable partners at Rady Children’s Hospital. This cross-section of families, mentors, team leaders, and volunteers came together to create an extraordinary event. The groundswell of support, engagement, and sense of community was palpable.
The frenzied start of the day, from check-in to the magical gauntlet, mentee matching ceremony, and team leader-led icebreakers, was filled with joy, anticipation, and nervousness – a range of emotions for everyone.
A caregiver shared her experience and desires surrounding the day: “I loved how the kids were matched with a mentor; after almost two years of cancer treatment, my son has had a lot of trouble building confidence. He also struggles with anxiety from all the trauma he experienced during his hospital stays and Covid. I think having a mentor will definitely help inspire him to try to do hard things and be more resilient.”
As the walls started to come down and the kids began climbing up, a critical parent and caregiver meeting followed. The caregivers of our little warriors entrust their children with us, leaving them in our care for the day. As we take this responsibility very seriously, it is imperative to reinforce who we are as an organization and discuss with them our expectations of participating in Climb for Courage. It is also an opportunity for me to share with them my own family’s journey with cancer. This meeting serves as a critical initial step to building a strong community. What was evident in this meeting was the raw emotion of all our families.
One of our caregivers said it best, “Just like many of you, it was overwhelming to see so many other people on the same or similar journey as our family. It was one of the first times I was in a place where other people who would just “get it” were. Due to COVID, the isolation is real. The lack of comrades and support has been real. Real deafening, that is.”
At One Summit, we desire to reduce that isolation, rebuild camaraderie, and support healing; however, that represents itself. A few weeks since the climb, that growth is already happening through friendships formed, mentorship in action, and connections made as we continue to grow The Anchor, our burgeoning online community.
As an organization, we greatly value storytelling and collecting feedback on the Climb for Courage experience. Those aspects are critical in facilitating posttraumatic growth. Here are some words from our San Diego mentors:
“I like to think that most people become SEALs to make a difference in the world around them. Typically, this translates to making an impact overseas; however, what better way is there to improve the lives of others than to share our time and energy as Frogmen with children that deserve it? It’s an unbelievably rewarding experience.”
“[My favorite moment from the day was] watching Ethan pause halfway up one of the toughest walls, giving him some guidance and encouragement, and watching him make it to the top. His smile at the bottom after he persevered through the tough climb was amazing.”
As I read the mentor & family testimonials, I asked myself, “Isn’t the ability to pause, reflect, ask for guidance, and persevere what we all need?” In the world of cancer, that opportunity does not come easily. And yet here we are, reflecting on a day of climbing—so simple yet powerful.
A testament to our work and our goal to build a vibrant community was observable at Climb Higher, our alumni program that we hosted on Sunday. While Climb for Courage welcomes all new families to the One Summit community, Climb Higher invites all past Climb for Courage participants in the area back for a fun “refresher” climb with some of One Summit’s Navy SEAL mentors. Joining us for a morning of climbing were 22 kids, 19 mentors, and even 2 pediatric oncology nurses from Rady Children’s who joined the belaying team! It was our most well-attended Climb Higher program to date, and it provided an opportunity for all in attendance to reconnect, share victories and challenges, and build new friendships.
We are so thankful to our incredible partners, Axos Bank, Love Your Melon, Kendra Scott’s Kendra Cares Program, and Zeal Cares, for helping us create an engaging experience for our little warriors and Navy SEAL mentors. We are also very fortunate to collaborate with the skilled staff and owners of Vertical Hold, who help us accommodate all our participants and truly enhance the experience for every single person who participates in these events. We are so very grateful for everything you do for us.
After the climb, one of the parents shared, “I am so grateful for One Summit, the team, and of course, our mentors. My children are still lit on fire from the event. Forever friends were forged at the event. I truly hope the mentors continue to light the fire and encourage strength, resilience, and joy in our children.”
I’m confident the fire lit will continue to burn. Special thanks to my team, Max, Giiehti, and Adam; working alongside you is an honor. Our time in San Diego was a fantastic way to kick off our 2023 programs, and I can’t wait for all that is to come in the year ahead!