On Dec. 2 and 3, the Chris Klug Foundation hosted its 11th Annual Aspen Summit for Life to raise awareness about the importance of organ and tissue donation with a nighttime climb to the summit of Aspen Mountain.
This year, the event saw 305 racers participate in the Friday evening hike, 61 of whom were transplant recipients or members of their families. Of the many taking part, the winners were named as John Gaston and Lyndsay Meyer, who completed the 3,200 feet ascent in an incredible 42 minutes, 53 seconds and 59 minutes, 37 seconds respectively. An additional 100 people took part in the Ride for Life – a much less exhausting gondola ride to the top of the mountain – while at the summit everyone was treated to a dinner at the Aspen Cooking School followed by the Party for Life.
Preparing for dinner at the Aspen Cooking School
“This year was a real record-breaking year,” said Lauren Pierce, executive director of the Chris Klug Foundation. “Not only did we beat participation numbers for our Ride for Life and Party for Life events, we beat our fundraising total by a huge $40,000!”
On the Saturday, the Foundation hosted its third Annual Bounce Back Awards – a ceremony that recognizes two transplant recipients who have exhibited a great quality of life after transplantation, based on their career accomplishment, participation in a sport or hobby or simply leading a fulfilling life with family and loved ones.
Winners of this year’s awards were Christopher Nalley and Donerik Black, who both possess incredible stories of accomplishment following their transplants.
Having been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth, Christopher Nalley received a complete lung transplant at the age of 20. Only five months later, Christopher went on to complete his first 5K race. While continuing to achieve incredible physical milestones, he volunteers for LifeNet Health, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and Donate Life Virginia.
“Chris’ post-transplant story is one to behold,” said Pierce. “He and his wife’s work for Donate Life and their dedication to its cause is genuinely awe-inspiring. He’s now going to be running as part of the Chris Klug Foundation team at next year’s New York City marathon.”
Donerik’s connection to transplantation began in 2006 when he donated his kidney to his father. Only a few years later, Donerik’s heart began to fail. In 2015, he received a heart transplant, at which point he decided to return to the sport he loves – BMX racing. He has now completed 40 local races and three national races since his transplant.
Much like Christopher’s story, Donerik’s inspirational tale doesn’t end with remarkable athletic feats – he’s also an active awareness raiser, helping Donate Life Ohio and the American Heart Association (AHA) spread the message of the importance of transplantation.
“Donerik’s history in organ donation, as well as his ongoing work for Donate Life and the AHA, makes him a well-deserved winner of one of this year’s awards,” said Pierce. “He is a fantastic role model for what can be achieved post-transplant.”
Chris Klug (left) with Bounce Back Awards winners Christopher Nalley and Roderik Black (right)
At the close of this year’s Summit for Life, money raised by the event totaled $172,000 – the biggest amount raised by any Summit so far (and still rising). With that in mind, it’s safe to say the event was a huge success.
“Thanks to the monumental funds raised at this year’s Summit for Life, we can look toward redesigning our curriculum to continue our awareness and educational efforts,” explained Pierce. “On top of that, we’re looking to develop a new tool in partnership with Donate Life that will allow for the immediate registration of donors at events. It will help greatly with our efforts to improve our organ and tissue donor registers.”
Next year’s Summit for Life will be held between Dec. 1 and 2 and is aiming to break records once more.
Photos courtesy of Ross Daniels.