(Aug. 2, 2019) Former Baltimore television weatherman Justin Berk will complete a 329-mile trek in seven days from Wisp Resort in western Maryland to Ocean City starting this Sunday and ending on Saturday, Aug. 10.
This is the sixth year Berk has taken the journey 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.
The excursion will begin 3,000 feet above sea level on the mountains of Wisp Resort in Garrett County and will finish in the Atlantic at Ocean City.
“When we started the top of Wisp, we come down the mountain,” Berk said. “Usually we come through the grass and it’s wet … so I’ve learned, to avoid blisters, to change our shoes. What we usually do, is the shoes that we started, are the shoes that we wear at the finish. We start with our feet getting wet on a mountain, and we end with our feet getting wet in the ocean.”
Last year, Berk completed the trek with people joining at various stages, and four other people going the entire 329-miles with him. This year, that number will double.
Berk and nine others will travel approximately 41 miles each day for seven days, with half of the trek done by foot and the other completed by bike. Berk estimates he will be moving between eight and 10 hours a day. Others will join for various segments of the journey. Also part of the crew are support staff such as registered nurses and a professional photographer. The entire trek will be recorded by a drone.
“I started this by myself in 2014,” Berk said. “Each year it’s slowly grown. The fact that I have 10 people doing the entire week with me, plus more that are joining in, and most of those people are returning from prior years, I think really speaks to the essence of what we’re doing.”
Last year, Berk raised more than $60,000. This year, he hopes to collect more. As of earlier this week, the sixth Maryland Trek has already raised $32,477.
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.”
Berk’s wife, Shannon, who he married last year immediately after he finished his fifth trek, will participate in this year’s trek, albeit not the entire run, mostly as a support using her expertise as a physical therapist.
“We’ve had to expand some of our programming,” Shannon said. “We realize that we need to start reaching bigger groups. So we started doing therapeutic tool kits that we call power packs where we get wholesale therapeutic things, whether it’s bracelets, essential oils. We actually have a company that made an essential oil blend specifically for us.
“We’re actually going to start providing these packs to different hospitals because some of the kids don’t have access to any of the natural-based alternatives to drugstore supplies,” she continued. “Some don’t even have a lot of money for all of the drugstore remedies that would help for canker sores or nausea or headaches. We wanted to provide something for them to handle all of that on their own, which is kind of what being empowered is.”
Feeling empowered despite the risk of cancer has been a personal subject for Berk, who was misdiagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 14.
“There was a problem with my left leg,” Berk said. “When I finally went to a doctor, I was initially diagnosed with bone cancer right underneath my left knee … My parents found another specialist and he knew immediately I had a staph infection, which was pretty darn serious ... and not cancer.
“I went in and they had to drill a quarter sized hole in my tibia and I was in the hospital a week later, after I developed an allergy to the medicine … and they weren’t sure I’d be able to walk again,” he continued. “But I eventually recovered, and I came back so I said, ‘OK, I’m back to life.’”
In addition to creating the power packs, the trek will also be funding healthy meals for the cancer patients and their families.
The weatherman said the decision to create the 300-plus mile trek came to him as a sign in the form of numbers.
“In the year 2014, when I was 41, I figured the numbers reflect each other and I needed to do a reflection on what happened since,” Berk said. “A whole bunch of signs that showed up with the numbers 14 and 41, proved to me that I needed to be doing something, and this whole idea was born about doing this trek across the state of Maryland, to hike and bike during the course of a week between the two biggest playgrounds in the state.”
The coincidences were intriguing: he was 41 years old when he started the inaugural trek and his hospitalization took place when he was 14; it had been 27 years … two times seven is 14; and he had been a weatherman on television in Baltimore for 14 years.
More than 30 sponsors, including title sponsor Smyth Jewelers, are funding the trip. Smyth had a particularly large role last year when the couple purchased their engagement rings with the company. In addition, so many other sponsors have made an effort to reach out to even more people, which thrills Berk.
“I actually reach more people through social media and my school education programs than I ever did on TV,” he said. “It has allowed me the opportunity to build my business and even more so the opportunity to dedicate most of my summer for training and prepping and doing this trek.”
“To quote Walter George, a friend of mine, ‘Good people find good people,’” Berk added.
The trek will make its way across the Eastern Shore, into Worcester County, past Route 50, into the inlet parking lot and finally into a crowd wearing bright orange T-shirts who will celebrate the end of the trek.
Once the trek is over, the two plan to enjoy a vacation at the resort with their family, hitting the beach and doing absolutely nothing after days of endless movement.
“I love my family, I love my wife … and what I truly love is that I get to do this with my wife,” Berk said.