Braving the Elements, Fighting the Good Fight

By Brandon HENSLEY

In Tibetan lore, it is believed that if you take prayer flags up a mountain, the prayers and mantras will be carried by the wind and spread good will and compassion into all available space.

Mike Leum, he of good will and humble nature within the Crescenta Valley, knows this and on June 9, he, his son Hunter, and hundreds of others carried out the duty of flying flags of cancer survivors, fulfilling an annual goal and raising money, awareness and prayers.

At least, he and his team did the best they could.

The team participated in The Climb to Fight, which raises money for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Even with a will to swim and climb, the conditions in northern California and Oregon made it so that Leum and his people had to make some compromises.

While swimming from the mainland to Alcatraz, gale force winds proved too much, putting kayaks and support boats in danger, and the swim was relegated to a one-mile race in the San Francisco Bay. After the swim, Leum and Hunter flew to Oregon to climb Mt. Hood, to plant flags of cancer fighters and survivors on the summit.

They never reached the summit, settling for 700 feet below, due to low visibility, strong winds and the chance of an avalanche. Nonetheless, the flags were planted, and the $7,000 fundraising goal had been met.

“All in all, it was an adventure,” Leum said.

To do this with his son, an in-shape 25-year-old who has a lust for life, made a memorable experience for Leum who said he worried about him on the climb.

“My first concern was the safety of Hunter,” he said. “It was the first time he had been in those conditions. But when I looked over, he had a big ol’ cheesy grin on his face. He was digging it.”

There may be talk of getting Hunter’s brother, 22-year-old Garrett, on board for future climbs.

“It’s amazing to see [Hunter] step up and participate in stuff like this … bottom line, both my kids are much better human beings at [their ages] than I was,” Leum said.

Even if the day, deemed the “Sea to Summit,” was close to Father’s Day and provided Leum a sense of pride with his son, he was quick to move the focus on to what matters the most to him. Leum is consistently volunteering in the foothills and fighting whatever battle he deems necessary, but he knows part of the reason why he gets up in the morning is to help those who are fighting this disease.

“The real heroes are the people who are fighting the fight every day, and some of the ones who have fought the fight, and lost, and that’s why we do it,” he said.