Father & Son Hiking Appalachian Trail for Charity - Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
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Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System

 

Father & Son Hiking Appalachian Trail for Charity

Two Hikers

Air Force Veteran Kevin Steele (right) and his son Hunter Steele pose for a photo at the beginning of the Appalachian Trail in Spring Mountain, Ga. The Steele's visited the trail during a previous family vacation.

By Nathan Schaeffer
Tuesday, March 4, 2014

For the past 10 years, Air Force Veteran Kevin Steele has dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail, which stretches across 14 states and is officially 2,185 miles long.

“All over the world, people want to hike the Appalachian Trail,” said Steele, who lives in Eufaula, Okla. “If they enjoy the outdoors, it is on every one of their bucket lists to come to America and hike the trail.”

Steele’s enthusiasm for hiking rubbed off on his son, Hunter. During Hunter’s freshman year in high school, he asked his father if the two of them could someday hike the entire Appalachian Trail after reading a book his father owned about the trek.

Steele promised that they would do the hike after Hunter graduated from high school, which Hunter completed in May 2013.

“It was always one of those things that I knew I’d have to put off until after I retire,” he said. “But when my son asked me if we could go do it; that nailed me down.”

For the past two years, father and son have been planning for the hike and the two have gone on numerous overnight hiking trips to test their equipment.

But Steele, who served on active duty in the Air Force from 1988 to 1992, Air Force Reserve from 1992 to 1997 and then the Oklahoma Air National Guard until 2003, also wanted the journey to serve a larger purpose beyond a bonding experience with his son.

Two Hikers

Air Force Veteran Kevin Steele (left) and his son Hunter Steele pose for a photo at the beginning of the Appalachian Trail in Spring Mountain, Ga. The Steele's visited the trail during a previous family vacation.

He wanted the trip to serve as a fundraiser for a Veterans’ charity. When he began researching charities, he found Active Heroes, a non-profit based in Louisville, Ky., that strives to reduce suicide among Veterans.

Active Heroes offers programs for Veterans such as physical and mental therapy, home repairs and community outreach, financial assistance and community reintegration. The charity is also building a 140-acre retreat for Veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or a Traumatic Brain Injury.

In June 2013, the Steele family drove to Louisville to meet with the charity which led to the fundraising campaign “Hike for Heroes 2014.” The hike will strive to raise $100,000 for the retreat. Active Heroes also received a $250,000 grant from Home Depot for the retreat and is scheduled to break ground on May 30.

“This charity, their sole purpose is suicide prevention,” said Steele. “Every member of the board has been touched by suicide by a Veteran family member who has committed suicide. That is their sole purpose and that’s the reason for this retreat.”

Steele resigned from his job at the Muskogee VA Regional Office in February and the hike will begin on March 17 in Spring Mountain, Ga. The hikers hope to average 15 miles per day and hope to complete the hike in six months.

“That will get you there in 150 days,” said Steele. “Since we’re giving ourselves six months, we’ll have an extra 30 days to relax and enjoy the trail towns along the way and also raise awareness for the charity.”

The two will either sleep in a tent or at shelters, which are located every eight to 10 miles.

“We will have a tent with us,” said Steele. “We want the option to be able to sleep anywhere and anytime we want. If we get into a real bad rainstorm, we’ll pop the tent up and stay dry.”

Steele will purchase food and supplies in “trail towns” along the route while his wife will also mail supplies to designated collection points.

“We’ll hit a trail town about every 40 to 70 miles where we can resupply,” he said. “About a half dozen places, we will have a drop box for us. My wife and daughter, they’re going to handle everything back (in Oklahoma) and when we reach certain points, they will ship out a box to us.”

Kevin and Hunter are thrilled to set out on their adventure.

“It’s going to be the adventure of a lifetime,” said Steele. “Everything about it is attractive to us. It has its own culture to it. You’ll meet friends and they’ll be like family members for the rest of your life.”

Every day, they will provide updates on their website, www.HikeForHeroes2014.org, and Facebook page, www.facebook.com/HikeForHeroes2014.

“We are going to video something every single day,” said Steele. “We want people to stay involved and stay interested and that’s only going to help us raise the money.”

If you would like to support the Hike for Heroes 2014 and help build the Veterans Retreat, visit their website at www.HikeForHeroes2014.org and click on the donate button.

“Every penny will go towards the retreat,” said Steele. “When someone clicks the donate button, it sends them over to the Active Heroes website and it’s earmarked specifically for the retreat. We’re losing 22 Veterans per day to suicide. We’re asking folks to donate $22 in memory of the 22 Veterans we’re going to lose that day.”

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