A walk for life | Kitsap Week

From left, Kathleen Strum, Dawn Lamont-Holman, Dave Bennett, Liza Snyder and Julie Snyder in downtown Poulsbo while planning “Walk in the Park” in February.    - Contributed photo
From left, Kathleen Strum, Dawn Lamont-Holman, Dave Bennett, Liza Snyder and Julie Snyder in downtown Poulsbo while planning “Walk in the Park” in February.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Hayden Strum was 4 and weakened by treatment for a brain tumor when he decided he would take on those 10 stairs at Ronald McDonald House.

His words were profound for someone his age. “Mom, put me down. I’m going to climb the stairs myself,” Kathleen Strum of Poulsbo remembers her son saying. “This is my challenge for today.”

“He was only 41/2 years old. He walked up those stairs and left me without an excuse. I thought, ‘I’ll never complain again in my life.’ What is 50 miles next to that?”

Five friends, Kathleen among them, will walk 50 miles on Saturday — from North Fork to Elwha along the Quinault and Elwha rivers — to raise money for the Hayden R. Strum Endowment, which contributes funds for pediatric brain tumor research. Hayden died at age 7 in 1999.

The friends made this trek 10 years ago, raising $30,000 in donations. That money and subsequent donations helped fund research that yielded improvements in treatment.

But this year’s walk will be bittersweet. Kathleen’s older son, Gunnar, died of cardiac arrhythmia at 19; Sunday will be the third anniversary of his death. He was a junior in college and wanted to become a lawyer and “kick down big” for the endowment. He hiked the 50-mile trail with his buddies and served on the support crew for the 2002 event.

Brian Dempsey, a co-founder of the endowment and a veteran of the 2002 trek, died of cancer in October 2011.

“It’s tremendously emotional,” Kathleen said of Saturday’s walk. “It’s a lot of — I don’t think there’s a word that can describe how much it means to me to be able to honor my children and Brian and all the other families. We’re just so determined to change the face of how cancer is treated.”

They have contributed to some advances in treatment.

“In the last two decades, we have nearly doubled the number of kids with brain tumors who survive because of research that led to novel treatments,” wrote Dr. Jim Olson, founder of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Center at Seattle Children’s Hospital. He was Hayden’s doctor.

“In one instance, we found a vitamin-A derivative usually used for acne (that is) as powerful as our most potent chemotherapy. In another, we identified a scorpion-derived peptide that makes cancer cells ‘light up’ so surgeons can see them during the operation, improving the amount of tumor removal and sparing normal brain.

“Breakthroughs like these are only possible because of generous people like you, who fund the most innovative research one pledge at a time.”

Strum said treatment is much better today than it was when her son was undergoing treatment. “Imagine what it will be like in another 10 years,” she said.

Joining Strum on the trek is David Bennett of Bainbridge, Dawn Lamont-Holman of Hansville, Julie Snyder of Poulsbo, and Liza Snyder, Julie’s daughter, of Poulsbo.

The friends call this event “A Walk in the Park 2012.” They began planning the trek at the beginning of the year and have trained since April; they’ve hiked portions of the trail, and on her neighborhood walks Strum carries a 5-foot, 25-pound pole with which she does lunges.

The group will spend Friday night at Rain Forest Resort Village on Lake Quinault. “The five of us will depart at 2 a.m. on the day of the hike in order to reach the Elwha Ranger Station before dark,” said Julie Snyder, a pre-AP English teacher in the Central Kitsap School District.

Their trail will connect to a trail on the north fork of the Quinault River, climb to an elevation of 3,200 feet at Low Divide, then continue north along the Elwha River to Elkhorn to Whiskey Bend and finally, Elwha.

“The (Elwha) station is five miles beyond the trail’s end at Whiskey Bend Road,” Snyder said.

This “Walk in the Park” is no walk in the park. The group will have to ford several creeks, rivers and streams. “It’s not like walking on the road,” Strum said. “Each placement of your feet is important. We have to cover a lot of water and it can be hazardous at some points.”

The five will average about one mile every 20 minutes, finishing in about 19 hours, Strum said.

But the memories of Hayden, Gunnar and Brian — and  the hope for continued advances in treatment of pediatric brain tumors — shape their perspective.“The event is over the top. The walk is difficult, but so is having a brain tumor,” Snyder said.

While the 50-miler is serious in mission, Strum said the group enjoys the challenge and the experience. “It’s upbeat and a nice time out there. It’s not a sad time,” she said.

There are events along the way that are catharsis. Strum said friends gave her small rocks to leave on the hike. Each rock represents a burden, and she’ll leave them just as pilgrims do on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or Way of St. James, in Spain.

“The economy is so hard right now,” Strum said. “Anyone who would take two minutes to donate through the Seattle Children’s website, I honor them.”

How to help
There are two ways to donate to the Hayden Strum Endowment. 
— Visit To make sure your donation goes to research, check the “other” button and write in “Walk in the Park.”
— Send a check payable to Seattle Children’s Hospital. Write “Walk in the Park” in the memo line and send to Hayden R. Strum Endowment, Walk in the Park 2012, c/o Seattle Children’s M/S S-200, P.O. Box 5371, Seattle, WA. 98145-5005.


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