Hiking 28.3 miles in a day would be a daunting task for just about anyone, regardless of age.
That’s precisely what 11-year-old Luke Burress plans to do at the end of this month, though.
Burress, a sixth-grader at Waynesville Middle School, is taking part in the Make-A-Wish Foundation Trailblaze Challenge, a grueling slog along the Foothills Trail through Upstate South Carolina and Western North Carolina to raise money for the non-profit.
“They created it as a way to raise awareness and money to grant wishes for children around the world,” Burress said.
The challenge traverses a portion of the trail outside of Cashiers, and is intended as an endurance event that’s challenging but still accessible to outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels and ages.
Burress got interested in the event when his mother, Rhiannon Holbrook, did the hike last year. He wanted to go with her the first time, but she had reservations.
“I did it last year, and we got hooked on it. This year I’m going back as a hike leader,” she said. “Luke wanted to know if he could do it with me last year, and I needed to know I could do it and help him if he needed to. This year, when they asked me to be a hike leader, he conveniently reminded me what I had said last year.”
Burress has been training hard for the hike, and his work is paying off. Holbrook said she thought he’d finish the journey in about 14 hours if his practice hikes are any indication.
Burress will be hiking with deputies from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, but his fundraising to support his trek is entirely separate from theirs.
“They’re fundraising as a team, but he’s a child and can’t work for the sheriff so they weren’t comfortable putting him on the fundraising team,” Holbrook said. “He’s doing all of his own fundraising instead.”
Already, he’s made significant progress in raising funds to support the hike.
“He did a huge event at Urban Athletics in Canton on March 30, and we did a special workout, and a bake sale and people just made donations. He made about $1,500 from that,” Holbrook said.
Since then, Burress has been pushing to cover the $1,000 gap remaining and push for more funds by selling t-shirts and stickers he helped design.
Starting this week, he’s also beginning a coin collection drive with the help of all the law enforcement agencies in the county.
“I reached out to all the chiefs and the sheriff, and just asked about doing a fundraiser,” Holbrook said. “I asked if they’d be willing to do a coin drive and ask officers or deputies and anyone who comes in to put their pocket change in a jar. All of them were onboard.”
The jars are now in place at the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, Waynesville Police Department, Canton Police Department, Maggie Valley Police Department and Clyde Police Department, and Burress and Holbrook both encouraged community members to stop by and make a contribution this week if possible.
The fundraiser asks each hiker to set a goal to raise at least $2,500, but Burress is setting his sights even higher.
“My minimum fundraising goal was $2,500, but since the average cost of a wish is $6,000 I want to raise as much as I possibly can,” he said.