“The hiking program continues to be a welcome part of my social life. This is just a wonderful group of supportive friends,” says Nancy Ryckman ‘82 MEd, active member of UNC Greensboro’s hiking group Celebrate the Trail to Recovery (CTR).
Created to be a restorative outlet and caring community for those who have or had cancer diagnoses, CTR recently celebrated two milestones: its sixth anniversary in January and its 500th hike on February 1.
Hiking’s Physical and Emotional Benefits
“Diagnosis of a serious illness unsettles identity,” says Dr. Justin Harmon, Associate Professor in the Department of Community and Therapeutic Recreation. “I started thinking, how can we help to reprioritize the things that really define us even in the face of dealing with diagnosis, treatment, and recovery? This hiking group is one way for people to see the restorative properties of nature and the benefits of routine, physical activity, and their natural environment, all alongside people who have experienced similar situations.”
Harmon modeled his idea for CTR from his experience volunteering with Live by Living, an organization providing transformative outdoor experiences for cancer survivors and caregivers in the Denver area. When Harmon joined the UNCG faculty in 2016, he began outreach and planning, and the first hiker joined him on January 21, 2017. Since then, 75 people who have had a cancer diagnosis have participated at least once, and about 25 others have joined as caregivers and supporters.
Ryckman, former Assistant Head of the Reference Department of University Libraries at UNCG, is one of about a dozen members who comes every week. She’s been participating since early 2020 and is encouraged by the health benefits of consistent exercise. “I believe I fared better with my cancer treatments than many people because I was exercising regularly before my diagnosis. It’s easy to skip exercising if no one is urging you to go, so having a regularly scheduled year-round program is a big incentive to get out of my home and go hiking,” she says.
In addition to the physical benefits, Ryckman says she has stuck with it because “we have a wonderful group of people who care about each other. I would encourage other cancer survivors and people undergoing treatment to join the group because of the camaraderie of being with people who have experienced the same fear of getting that diagnosis, undergone some of the same treatments, and have lived to tell about it. I think it is important to see that there is health and happiness after cancer.”
CTR’s Unwavering Support
The CTR program meets throughout the year every Wednesday and Saturday at 9:30 a.m. The group cycles through about 25 different trails in the Greensboro and surrounding Guilford County area. While there are varying degrees of difficulty, each hike is approximately four miles long, so participants can plan for a two hour outing.
“I like any of the trails where we have a view of the water, especially lakes,” says Ryckman. “The look and feel of each trail varies with the season. In the spring we try to identify the plants and trees. Phone apps for identifying both have helped us with that! In the fall the leaf colors are spectacular, especially when reflected in the lakes. There is nothing like hiking in the fresh air through beautiful natural areas.”
While Harmon hikes about four times a month, his graduate students are there every week to keep the program running. “It’s a great opportunity for the students, too, who want to work with this population. It’s valuable real world experience and beneficial to their professional development,” adds Harmon.
“I’m very grateful to Justin for finding grant money to fund the graduate students who support this program, and I hope he continues to be successful in securing funds,” says Ryckman. “Probably all of the hikers are like me, and we cross our fingers before learning the results of each mammogram. If the worst should ever happen again, I’m thankful to have a supportive group like this one.”
Interested in the CTR Program? Let’s hike!
Story by Amanda Saber, AMBCopy, LLC
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications
Videography by Grant Evan Gilliard; edited by David Lee Row, University Communications