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No mountain too tall for Freeland man's cancer quest

Freeland resident Chris Kesler slides down the snowpack of Mount Shasta, Calif. He was training for a summit of Mount Rainier in July.  - Photo courtesy of Chris Kesler
Freeland resident Chris Kesler slides down the snowpack of Mount Shasta, Calif. He was training for a summit of Mount Rainier in July.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Chris Kesler

To hear Freeland resident Chris Kesler talk about his upcoming summit of Mount Rainier, reaching the top of Washington’s highest peak is a small task.

At least, it is compared to the people for whom he’s taking each step and raising $5,000: breast cancer patients. When Kesler, 49, runs into one Whidbey woman who is a breast cancer survivor, she thanks him each and every time for similar past ascents he’s made. But she also asks him if he plans on doing it another year, and he has given her the same response the past two years.

“I say, ‘I don’t know,’ “ Kesler said. “Then when it comes around time to do it, there’s a pull … It’s still meaningful.”

“It gives them hope that eventually there will be a cure,” he added.

Despite not having a direct connection to breast cancer, which has not afflicted any of his family members, he keeps climbing year after year. Kesler is tackling his third Washington summit as part of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Climb for Breast Cancer Research. The past two years he hiked Mount Adams and Mount Baker.

The climb is a fundraiser for the Seattle-based lab that is working toward cures for various types of cancer. Mount Rainier is one of 13 trips across the globe this year, all of which funnel money through donations directly to the center. According to the climb’s website, it has raised nearly $7 million since 1997. That money goes toward early-stage cancer research and studies, and helps researchers’ quickly respond to new information and technology and facilities, rather than waiting for federal or state funding.

On this trip, Kesler pledged to raise $5,000. He takes off July 18-20 with seven other hikers and four guides. As of June 27, he had raised $4,560 - $440 away from his goal. About one-third came from subcontractors and the construction company he works for, Lydig Construction. The rest, he said, has come from friends and family.

“Fifty bucks at a time, you know,” Kesler said.

The support Kesler and his donors gave to the center was well appreciated by Lisa Carlson, the event manager of Climb to Fight Breast Cancer.

“It is amazing how much money, and how dedicated this group of individuals is year after year,” Carlson said, adding that there are about 100 climbers total for this year’s summits. “And Chris has been just wonderful.”

Training for the climbs has become his pastime. He worked out three days each week and hiked every weekend. Earlier in June, Kesler took a trip to climb Mount Shasta, nearly as high as Mount Rainier’s 14,411-foot peak, to adjust and see how his body responds to the thinner oxygen.

“Guys like Chris are so good,” Carlson said. “He could go out climbing on his own. He wouldn’t necessarily need all of the services we provide. But he’s committed to the cause.”

A baseball coach for the past 10 years with a daughter in college and a son entering his senior year of high school, Kesler said mountain climbing and training for the breast cancer hikes have become his empty-nest replacement. Instead of coming home and wondering where the kids are, he works out at Island Sweat Shop in Clinton or trains by lugging a weighted pack up and down a bluff three times.

To donate to Kesler’s climb and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, visit http://getinvolved.fhcrc.org/site/TR?px=1381723&fr_id=1320&pg=personal.

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