(Aug. 16, 2019) Ten people biked and trekked their way from the farthest corner of the western end of Maryland to the tip of the Eastern end of the state in seven days to raise money for childhood cancer.
Former Baltimore TV weatherman and current meteorologist and social media influencer Justin Berk and nine others completed the sixth annual MD Trek at the inlet parking lot this past Saturday.
Berk has made the journey each time to raise money for Just in Power Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides free therapies, supportive care and workshops in conjunction with the child and his or her family’s chosen medical treatment.
Berk said he has a passion for fighting childhood cancer, as he had been mistakenly diagnosed with bone cancer at age 14, only to discover it was a staph infection. He created his first Maryland Trek when he was 41 years old, six years ago.
The excursion began 3,000 feet above sea level on the mountains of Wisp Resort in Garrett County and finished in the Atlantic Ocean at Ocean City. Dozens of people participated in various segments of the 329-mile trek this year, which is exactly what Berk wanted.
“The only way this thing could survive is bringing in new blood, bringing in new people,” Berk said. “I love the conversations I had just a week ago with people knowing what they had in store, but also not knowing what our week was going to bring, because I just knew it was going to bring a tremendous amount of adventure, stories and problems that we were going to solve, and we were going to get through it one way or another.
“I feel blessed by every single person that was here,” he continued. “While my name may be on the logo and T-shirts, it couldn’t have survived without every single person here.”
Berk and nine others traveled approximately 41 miles each day for seven days, with half of the trek done by foot and the other completed by bike, moving between eight and 10 hours a day. Part of the crew was support staff such as registered nurses and a professional photographer. The entire trek was recorded by a drone.
There were some ups and downs with this trek. There were many blisters and one man had an infection that needed to be treated at a hospital, only to continue with the trek once he was given medical clearance.
However, there were many positive experiences as well. This year, the trek was held in honor of six children who are battling cancer. The trekkers were able to meet with each child throughout their journey. Most were in person, another was done through FaceTime, as she was too ill to leave her room.
“We have the children that we honor, engage and are in contact with the team and with us during the week, because that is actually why we’re doing this,” Berk’s wife, Shannon said.
“Another girl came out to see us after several months in the hospital for a bone marrow transplant,” Berk said. “She actually rallied her strength and her resilience to come out and meet the team because she was so impressed and honored that we were doing this for her. And she is just a beautiful soul.”
Last year, Berk raised more than $60,000. This year, the trek was able to raise over $97,000 as of earlier this week.
Every $25 donated provides a meal for a child and each of the parents. For $75, a child receives a special “power pack” filled with various medicinal and recreational supplies.
“Every $500 will fully treat one kid,” Berk said. “The ultimate goal is our nonprofit, Just in Power Kids, where we are raising money to provide free, holistic care for kids in cancer treatment and up to five years post-treatment.”
The money is used for various treatment care packages, like therapeutic tool kits called “power packs” filled with bracelets and essential oils. In addition to creating the power packs, the trek is also funding healthy meals for cancer patients and their families.
Berk also celebrated his one-year wedding anniversary with Shannon, who uses his experience as a physical therapist to help with the trek.
Last year’s trek was special for Berk. After completing the trip, he got married on the beach to Shannon, who he met during one of his earlier cross-state walks.
Shannon shared a story, an essay called the Starfish, with the trekkers and audience at the end of the journey.
“A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm,” she read. “When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up and throw it back into the ocean.
“She’d been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, ‘Little girl. Why are you doing this? Look at all these starfish on the beach. You can’t save all of them. You can’t even begin to make a difference.’
“The little girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated, but after a few moments of silently chewing on the man’s words, she bent down, picked up another starfish and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and smiled and said, ‘Well, I made a difference for that one.’
“The old man looked at the little girl … so small and thought about what she had said and was inspired,” she continued. “He joined the little girl in throwing the starfish back into the ocean. Soon, others joined in and all of the starfish were saved.
“These starfish represent the understanding that we hold in our hands the power to change a life, a mind or a circumstance. Today, right now, we take this moment at the end of our long, grueling journey across the beautiful state of Maryland to honor those that have changed our world.”