Hiking the Appalachian Trail might seem like an impossible feat for many, but this Massachusetts man has no doubt he can conquer the climb, even with his ALS diagnosis.
Rick Marks, 55, of Winchester, is spending his summer summiting the mountains from Massachusetts to Maine, all in an effort to raise awareness for the disease.
“My hike is going very well so far. I have seen some beautiful parts of New England,” Rick, who speaks through a machine, said in an interview with InsideEdition.com. ”I have fallen a number of times but the friends who are hiking with me have been a big help.”
The father-of-two, who is now only two weeks away from completing the 600-mile hike, does each leg with only physical support from a foot brace that helps with a developing weakness on his left side, and a neck collar, since he has trouble holding his head up. A small troop of his friends also accompanies him to lead the way and to help him up if he falls.
“Rick’s been doing amazingly well,” his wife Eileen, 54, told InsideEdition.com. “The Appalachian Trail is challenging for anybody. For somebody with ALS, as you can imagine, it’s even that much more challenging.”
This week was his most difficult, Rick said, as his team conquered four mountains including Mount Washington, which peaks at 6,288 feet.
“All of them were challenging because New Hampshire is full of granite and the trails are steep and rocky,” Rick said. “I enjoyed the trails even though they were hard and was proud when I summited the four peaks.”
Eileen said, "I think he likes not only to be outdoors but the physical challenge of it. He likes the steepest mountains and tries to get to the top as fast as he can.”
Rick was diagnosed with ALS around Thanksgiving of last year.
“I was stunned. I did not expect this diagnosis at all,” said Rick, who has been an outdoorsman ever since his eldest son joined the Boy Scouts. “I decided the only way through this is to stay as positive as I could and I asked my family to do the same.”
His wife Eileen added, “He’s been much more positive, consistently, than the rest of us have. It’s been difficult, and sometimes we have to make him let us be sad.”
By January, he decided he wanted to embark on his hike to raise awareness and research money so no other family would have to experience the grief they are experiencing now.
“He could have definitely done it in January,” Eileen said. “Even in January, he was still skiing out in Utah. [But] he wasn’t able to do the hike the way he originally envisioned it.”
She explained Rick is only now able to do the hike at half the pace he anticipated, and has to hike the trail now in sections, rather than all at once as planned.
But friends and volunteers have taken over where Rick had to stop, and nearly 50 people have either picked up routes Rick could no longer do himself, or are prepared to do parts of the hike in the coming weeks.
“It’s been great to have this hike to focus on because it’s given us something to put all of our energy into,” Eileen said. “It’s made all of us feel like we’re helping to make a difference and help find a cure.”