Megan MacKenzie knows all about difficult journeys and overcoming steep obstacles. She is equally familiar with putting one foot in front of the other and persevering down a path with seemingly no end in sight.
Yet, as she trekked along a five-mile portion of a rugged trail that ascended more than 2,000 feet, MacKenzie found herself stopping frequently to catch her breath. It wasn’t just the altitude that left her gasping for air; it was the spectacular views she encountered along the way.
Colorado’s majestic Rocky Mountains have a way of doing that, especially for someone encountering their scenic vistas for the first time.
“There’s nothing like this in New York,” said the Rochester native. “We have the Adirondacks, but I think the tallest peak is around 5,000 feet.
“You come out here and the first thing that comes to mind is ‘My God, the Rocky Mountains just keep going.’ You get up there and the views are just incredible and then you look beyond what’s in front of you and they just keep going.”
Nearly a decade has passed that MacKenzie was skating on top of the world, so to speak, having received the prestigious assignment to work as a linesman during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Soon after, she discovered a lump in one of her breasts, which turned her world upside down. In the months that followed, she underwent numerous medical procedures, including a mastectomy, radioactive treatment, chemotherapy and had four inches of a rib removed. Then came the day that she had long hoped for, MacKenzie received word that she was cancer-free.
Her journey to Colorado was just another step along the long path to her personal recovery as she raise awareness so that others can look out for warning signs for a disease that impacts one in eight women.
“Part of the reason why it’s important to give back and make people aware is because the sooner you’re diagnosed in your disease, the less invasive the treatment is and the higher the probability for survival,” she said.
MacKenzie is the first to admit that she has been very lucky she hasn’t had to make this journey alone. In addition to family and friends, the long-time USA Hockey official has enjoyed the support of the officiating community that has a way of sticking together, especially through tough times.
“All of us have been touched by this disease,” MacKenzie said. “It’s a disease that not only leaves you scarred physically but emotionally. With the support that’s happened with these guys, I’ve been humbled by it. They are some of the greatest people I know.
“I think it’s just the commitment to each other. It takes a special breed to be a referee. We’ve all been humbled at some point in our careers in front of thousands of people and you just have to learn to pick yourself up and go.”
The four-day hike along some of Colorado’s most scenic trails was no exception. Joining her on the hike were Jeremy Lewis, Jess Leclerc and Laura Rinde.
After meeting up in Denver, the group made its way to the ski town of Breckenridge, where they set out on July 31 for what they hoped would be a leisurely walk through the woods. It started out as anything but.
“The first day was almost five miles uphill and the last two miles were down. We went from 8,918 to 11,200 on the first day. The whole time I was thinking ‘God, what am I doing?’ ” MacKenzie said.
“You have to pace yourself and, knowing the amount of time we had, you could take your time and catch your breath. I think that sitting back and enjoying everything was probably the key to the success of this trip.”
With the worst behind them, the group settled into a nice routine, stopping along the way to set up camp and take plenty of photos. They played cards and swapped stories, basked in the summer Colorado sun and braved afternoon thunderstorms. By the time they had passed through the historic mining town of Leadville and on into Buena Vista, they had covered 18.5 miles and raised nearly $10,000 to benefit the Wilmot Cancer Center in Rochester.
For those who made the trip, and for all those who supported the cause through their donations and words of encouragement, this leg of the journey is over. For MacKenzie, there will be other adventures as she does what she can to raise awareness of a disease that has changed her life forever, but it’s also left her feeling richer thanks to the support she has discovered along the way.
“You can’t control the adversity that life puts in front of you,” she said. “You can only control your reaction and your attitude.”
To learn more about the Wilmot Cancer Center in Rochester, N.Y., or how you can donate to the Hiking Colorado for a Cure campaign, go to hikingcoloradoforacure.com.