5 Minutes With… Head: Pacific Crest Trail hiker and cancer survivor Greg Sagan
July 7, 2015
Three years ago, undergoing treatment for testicular cancer at age 23, local Greg Sagan couldn't fathom hiking, let alone spending five months trekking the Pacific Crest Trail from the California-Mexico border to Canada. But after recovering and emerging with a fresh perspective on life, in April, he and friend Zac Barbiasz began doing just that to benefit the St. Baldrick's Foundation's (http://www.stbaldricks.org) children's cancer research. He plans to complete the 2,663-mile journey in September, just in time to come back and shave his head to celebrate National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Steamboat Living: How long have you lived in Steamboat?
Sagan: Since summer of 2013, after graduating from Westfield State University in Western Massachusetts in 2012. I love the accessibility to the outdoors we have, waking up to bottomless Champagne powder days, the people who live here, and the abundance of sunshine!
SL: What inspired you to hike the PCT?
Sagan: Growing up in a city, I didn’t have many chances to hike at a young age, nor appreciate the outdoors. In college, I took a weekend backpacking trip to the White Mountains and was hooked. Going to the mountains soon meant going “home.” Since coming here, the chance to get outdoors has only grown. Last November, Zac and I were chosen to be a part of the Vasque Footwear Thru-Hike Syndicate program as product ambassadors for a few outdoor companies. We started planning our trip about four months before we started on April 24.
SL: How did you train?
Sagan: Preparing for a 2,650-mile hike isn't easy, but I maintained a good day-to-day workout regimen that included backpacking in the Zirkels, climbing 14ers and biking. People asked me how one gets in shape for such a trek, and my answer was always, “look out the window.” We're indeed spoiled to live in Steamboat.
SL: Have you ever done anything like this before?
Sagan: No, but I’ve completed several overly ambitious “death marches” in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I’ve also summited a few 14ers, but with far less weight than I’ll be carrying on the PCT.
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SL: What other sports, activities, interests, etc., do you pursue?
Sagan: I like craft beer and the craft beer movement that just keeps growing! We’re pretty fortunate living in a state that is one of the country’s craft beer meccas, and I love supporting the local breweries we have here in town!
SL: Why the St. Baldrick’s Foundation?
Sagan: Being a cancer survivor at a young age and being fortunate enough to do something I’m passionate about made me want to give back. I wanted more than to just hike the trail. Being the oldest of four, I couldn’t resist choosing St. Baldrick’s. Kids should be kids and be able to live life to the fullest without being burdened by a terrible disease. Families of children with cancer face many challenges, including uncertainty, restrictions and rigorous treatments. People often link cancer with age; children and young adults with cancer are a less visible demographic than adult cancer patients. When I was diagnosed, I realized that age is an inextricable factor of how we experience cancer and that life, indeed, is too short. I’m now 26, hiking 2,650 miles to raise money, and I have yet to define who I really want to become. For all of us who are facing or have overcome cancer, we don’t know what’s next. All I know is that we’re going to make it to see it.
SL: What are you hoping to accomplish from the trip?
Sagan: What many others unfortunately don’t get to see or do — life's simple pleasures like the outdoors and detaching from today's Wi-Fi-connected society. To quote Edward Abbey: “Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast, a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves…and I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”
SL: What’s next?
Sagan: After the hike, I plan on returning to Steamboat and my seasonal jobs at Steamboat Resort and as a snowboard instructor and club service attendant at One Steamboat Place. A career in the outdoor industry would be something to look forward to.
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