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Mother-Daughter Duo Hike Appalachian Trail, Raise $80,000

The pair increased awareness about Parkinson’s disease and learned life lessons


Video: Mom-Daughter Duo Hike 2,200 Miles to Fight Parkinson’s

The trail was long. The obstacles were many. But Sue Otten, 66, and daughter Gretja, 27, didn’t give up, and in five months they had hiked the entire Appalachian Trail — more than 2,000 miles.

Their goal was to raise awareness and money to help fight Parkinson’s disease. Sue’s husband, Gretja’s father, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010. The mother-daughter duo ended up raising more than $80,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

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But the path to get there wasn’t always certain. The Appalachian Trail spans 14 states, from Maine to Georgia, and only one in four people making the attempt actually completes the entire hike. Even more daunting: Only 3 percent of those are over 60.

Sue and Gretja each started out carrying a pack weighing about 40 pounds, with tents, gear, food and sleeping bags.

“There’s nothing that prepares you, I don’t think, either mentally or physically, for doing the trail, other than doing the trail,” Sue says. “It takes tenacity.”

At one point during the journey, Sue tripped on a root and fell and had to get 10 staples in the top of her head. Mother and daughter had to seriously consider whether it was smart to go on.

“I think it all boiled down to Why are we doing this hike?” Gretja says.

The two decided to continue. “To have something that’s big that’s pulling you along was really very helpful to us,” Sue says.

As they hiked, the two documented their progress on their YouTube channel and gained fans. Those supporters offered them meals and beds for the night near the trail, and left inspiring and encouraging comments that kept them moving ahead.

“The trail certainly teaches you what’s important about life and what’s not important,” Gretja says. “It’s more about the relationships you share with others, the lasting legacy and impression you can leave on people.”

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