‘Hiking Saved My Life:’ Tucson Trekker Reflects on Hiking Journey

Mare CzinarSeptember 16, 2022
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Hiking… saved my life,” says Kelly Thrush of Tucson. The liver transplant recipient points to 16 years of poor lifestyle choices, including a junk food diet and alcohol abuse, as factors in his near-fatal health crisis and ultimate wake-up call.

While thankful for his second chance, Thrush struggled with shame and finding renewed purpose. “I wrestled with a lot of different ideas and questions… Why did I get to live that day? Someone’s child died the same day I woke up. There is a mother out there that lost her baby, but my mother was sitting there holding my hand. I still struggle with that question. I had put everyone I love through hell and back.”

Determined to live a better life, Thrush embraced hiking in the mountains around Tucson as a way to improve his physical and mental health. “The pull of the mountains is strong,” he says. “It only took me one hike to want to go back again.”

Recently, he climbed the popular Tumamoc Hill trail near Tucson 10 times in one day, but has set even bigger goals: giving back through outdoor-focused volunteerism. “Trek for Teens is an incredible fundraiser with the goal of getting Arizona young people out into the wilderness,” Thrush says of the Prescott-based The Launch Pad Teen Center project. “All of the money we raise goes to help Prescott teenagers get outdoors and into the wilderness for some amazing adventures.

“Each year, the first weekend in October, we set out to do a Rim-to-Rim trek at the Grand Canyon. The goal is to let teens experience how amazing the wilderness is. To see it firsthand, and not just from a screen.”

Thrush plans to continue paying it forward by supporting others facing life challenges.

“The world is a pretty amazing place. Gratitude. Joy. Humility. Push yourself beyond limits you didn’t know you had, and you will find places you didn’t know existed.”

Tumamoc Hill

Trek for Teens