As the sun’s rays began to pierce the starry horizon at 3 a.m., Robin Schoenfeld looked out over Portland, Ore., with a proud smile and a full heart. Despite the wind-swept slopes of the volcano she was climbing and the brick of ice on her back that was once her water bottle, she pressed on toward the top of Mt. Hood to help find a cure for breast cancer.
Schoenfeld made the ascent early on the morning of June 8 with 17 others as part of The Climb to Fight Breast Cancer, an annual fundraiser by her employer, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Washington.
Though an athletic Seattle resident, the 36-year-old Brooklyn native had never climbed a mountain before. But she was anxious to show the 11,200-foot peak what she was made of given her personal connection to the disease.
“When three of your four grandparents have suffered with cancer, you certainly have a little more invested in finding a cure for this terrible disease,” she said. “But I was also climbing to celebrate my good friend’s mother’s survival of breast cancer. It’s incredibly motivating to do this for a good cause.”
Schoenfeld grew up on Avenue S between East 27th and East 28th streets in Marine Park. In 1999, she graduated from Stony Brook University with degree in physical therapy, but her athletic lifestyle soon brought her to Seattle in 2002.
“I’ve been back to Brooklyn a number of times but I just love the outdoors too much,” she said. “I definitely miss my friends and family a lot – and I miss Spumoni Gardens!” she laughed.
The Climb to Fight Breast Cancer began in 1997 when a small group of volunteers from the Fred Hutchinson Center decided to climb Washington’s Mt. Adams to raise money for their research. Over the past 11 years, it has grown into a multi-mountain event for novice to expert climbers featuring Northwestern mountains Hood, Adams, Rainier and Baker as well as Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mt. Elbrus in Russia and the Volcanoes of Mexico.
“I think what’s so special about the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer is that just about everybody that participates has been impacted by breast cancer in one way or another,” said Kelli Amico, a PR consultant for the event. “It’s not just a regular mountain climb for fun. It’s much more personal.”
Last year, the expeditions raised over $650,000 for research, and each year it has become more popular with climbers and sponsors alike. For 2008, there have been 106 registered participants so far, including Schoenfeld and her co-workers Sarah Olsen and Bill Hayner, and a variety of corporate and individual benefactors have shown their charity.
On the way up the face of Mt. Hood, Schoenfeld’s group passed Timberline Lodge (made famous as the fictional Overlook Hotel in the 1980 movie “The Shining”) and stopped at the cozy Silcox Hut the day before the expedition. Over a celebratory dinner, the climbers introduced themselves and even got choked up sharing stories of breast cancer’s impact on their lives. And at midnight, they embarked with crampons and headlamps.
“I was nervous and a little jittery, but I realized I was in good shape and ready to do it,” Schoenfeld said. “I felt great at 10,000 feet. I wasn’t tired at all and it was absolutely beautiful.”
Unfortunately, the guides stopped the climbers a mere 700 feet below the summit due to an avalanche threat, but Schoenfeld was very satisfied knowing she could have waltzed to the top given the chance.
“I can run marathons all I want and no one can stop me but me,” she said. “But the reality is that the risks are what dictate what happens on any given day mountain climbing. You have to be safe first because accidents happen all too often and it’s not worth it.”
Though the weather may have kept them off the summit, it wasn’t enough to diminish their pride in their personal achievements or their devotion to the cause. For Schoenfeld, it just means that she’ll have to conquer Mt. Hood another day.
“We each had our personal ties to this disease,” she said, “so I’ve just always tried to do anything I could to help others not suffer.”
To sponsor a climber or make a donation to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, call 206-667-5000 or visit www.fhcrc.org.