After 563 miles of cycling, hiking, and rafting their way south across the state, the participants of the second annual Alaska State Troopers Adventure Relay exhausted their last ounces of energy as they ran to cross the finish line in Soldotna on Friday.
Vicious whitewater rapids, snow, and an ornery brown bear could not stop the more than 70 troopers, law enforcement officers, and family members from completing the grueling endurance relay from Fairbanks to Soldotna. And their determination paid off: as of Friday, $23,000 has been collected through cash donations, sponsorships, and pledges for the charitable organization Wish Upon the North Star, which grants wishes for Alaska children dealing with life-threatening illnesses.
“It gets so dark and it gets so depressing,” said Trooper Capt. Barry Wilson of the pervasive sense of hopelessness that often accompanies the diagnosis and treatment of an ill child. “Having this uplifting experience sometimes gives them that extra energy and helps them to fight through.”
Wish Upon the North Star recipient James Elsey of Soldotna attended the celebratory barbecue with his family on Friday afternoon. Elsey, 13, became ill about two-and-a-half years ago, and his doctors, frustratingly, could not figure out what was wrong.
“His bones were breaking, his eyes stopped working correctly,” recalled his mother, Amber Abbott. “He was in excruciating pain all of the time. He got to the point where he wasn’t able to walk any longer. He wasn’t able to eat any longer, so he had a feeding tube inserted.”
Elsey spent most of his time, including two consecutive Christmases, in a Seattle hospital and away from his five siblings. One of his doctors suggested Abbott apply to WUNS on Elsey’s behalf. When asked what his wish would be, Elsey’s response echoed that of so many children before him: he wanted to go to Disney World.
Within six weeks of applying, Elsey was in Disney World with his family. The group stayed at the Give Kids the World Village, where eating ice cream for breakfast is strongly encouraged and every Thursday is Christmas.
“They decorate the entire village like it’s Christmas,” Abbott said, flipping through a photo album full of images recounting their weeklong vacation. “You have Christmas dinner, and after dinner there’s a Christmas parade and then a Christmas party. And it snows.”
Abbott remembers the March 2010 trip fondly, and the smiling faces shining through the plastic photo covering reveal that Elsey and his siblings do, too.
“This way really our first family Christmas together since he’d been sick,” Abbott said. “He was really happy. It was wonderful.”
Funds collected through ASTAR also recently went toward the remodeling of 3-year-old Fabian Berrios’ bedroom. Berrios underwent numerous medical procedures after being diagnosed with two congenital heart defects.
Wildlife Trooper Ken Acton participated in this year’s 26-leg relay — his favorite part was the whitewater rafting down Six Mile Creek — but he also understands what it means to be on the other side of a charitable event like ASTAR: Acton’s 7-year-old granddaughter is in the process of applying for a wish through WUNS.
“It’s more difficult on the families than people realize,” he said.
Acton said that he will begin planning next year’s route within the next month or so, and that the 2012 ASTAR will head the opposite direction, from south to north.
The ASTAR website at www.alaskastar.org is still accepting donations and pledges.