Four hundred fifty miles.
That’s the distance that separates Nik Alexoff from his younger sister, Randi – who suffers from a rare form of bone cancer – and it’s the distance he plans to conquer as soon as he graduates.
Alexoff plans to walk 450 miles along the Appalachian Trail to his home in Westhampton, N.Y. to raise money for Randi’s medical treatment.
Since announcing his walk-a-thon through a group on Facebook, Alexoff has garnered more than 850 followers and plans to set up a Paypal Web site to collect donations for his endeavor.
The idea for the hike, he said, was his way of overcoming the hopelessness he felt being miles away from his 14-year-old sister, who a year ago was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of pediatric bone cancer that afflicts pubescent children. It is also a way to raise money for the lifelong medical costs his family will endure to keep Randi healthy, he said.
“I would do everything I could, but I was at the mercy of a disease,” Alexoff said of being separated from his sister as she went through weeks of intensive chemotherapy and painful surgeries to replace her knee and femur bone with artificial bone – a measure to remove the cancerous cells. “I can only pry doctors for so much information, try and read as much as I can, sit in the hospital for as long as I can, but at a certain point I was here [at GW]. I was hundreds of miles away. Being so helpless was one of the toughest things for me.”
It was during a conversation with a friend from home about hiking the Appalachian Trail that Alexoff concocted the plan to walk home, realizing he could leverage it into a fundraiser for Randi.
“E-mails were going around in my family when it happened, everyone thinking, ‘What you can do now to raise money.’ I couldn’t think of anything at that time, but then a friend mentioned this plan and I started thinking about it,” Alexoff said. “So I thought, maybe I’ll hike the Appalachian Trail and walk home. That’s enough of a thing so that people can sponsor me. Health care costs are in the news for a reason, you know. Any donation I raise is going to be helpful.”
Seniors Jon Garrett and Joe Parise, two of Alexoff’s longtime friends, said they were surprised when Alexoff first brought up his plan last semester.
“I thought he was crazy,” Garrett said.
Alexoff said he has started researching and compiling the materials he needs for his hike, which he plans to start two days after Commencement, held May 16. Two friends from home will join him. He said he will try to average 15 miles a day, so the journey should take him a month and a half. He noted the most difficult aspect will probably be the time until he is reunited with his family.
“The funny thing is, it makes the time until I see her longer. But she knows about it, she’s really happy for me,” he said.
Extremely reluctant at characterizing his actions as laudable, Alexoff believes that his plan is not out of the ordinary.
“I’m not really doing anything crazy. It’s what any older brother would do for his younger sister,” he said. “I don’t like the attention, and I don’t deserve the attention because it’s not about me.”
His friends clearly disagree, calling Alexoff’s actions motivating and proactive, as do the hundreds who have joined the Facebook group for a plan that was originally intended only for close friends, family and local Westhampton businesses.
Alexoff plans to document his journey through the use of a satellite transponder that will keep track of his daily progress on a Web site. Though people can donate lump sums, Alexoff envisions more per-mile sponsorships, which could start at 5 cents per mile. All funds raised will go to the nonprofit established by Alexoff’s family, Lend a Hand for Randi.
Though Randi is expected to make a full recovery, she will have to undergo one more major surgery because she is still growing. Alexoff said he plans to spend next year at home and available for Randi as she transitions into high school.