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60-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail to support war vets

Although paralyzed on his left side, that's not stopping war veteran Brian Liebenow from doing a 60-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail in 24 hours.

"Brian immediately jumped on board and said, 'I'm doing it,'" said his wife of 13 years, Betsy Liebenow.

This hike, beginning at noon Friday, May 30, and ending at noon Saturday, is a collaboration of efforts between 1Voice Trekking, which is supported by the Community Foundation of Carroll County, and Team Racing for Veterans. All of the money raised from this event will go directly back to Team R4V.

This is 1Voice's sixth hike, said co-founder Greg Blair, of Westminster. It began as an advocacy group for Voices for Children, to help abused children, but it grew from there. 1Voice has supported many different causes but this particular hike will aid Team R4V.

Although Brian Liebenow is not a member of either organization - he lives with his wife in Tennessee - he has already raised $600 more than the $1,000 that each hiker was asked to raise, Betsy said.

His paralysis was caused by the radiation used to treat his lymphoma cancer. Betsy Liebenow said that Brian has little function in his left hand, but better mobility in his leg. She said her husband struggles to be understood, because his tongue and left side of his jaw are paralyzed.

Despite this, Brian Liebenow is completely independent and continually setting new goals for himself, his wife said.

"He's so inspirational, and he doesn't know it," Betsy Liebenow said.

Betsy Liebenow said she will be a part of the support team riding in the vehicles following the hikers on a road parallel to the hiking trail. She will be there to take her husband's place if he needs to take a break for a few miles during the hike.

Team R4V is a nonprofit that rehabilitates mentally or physically injured veterans by encouraging them to develop an athletic goal and then working to help them attain it, said Chairman Jeff Haugh. Team R4V funds the athletes' memberships to CrossFit Walter Reed, a gym for veterans, as well as funding any races or CrossFit competitions they want to participate in, Haugh said.

The 1Voice hikes are not just about the money that is raised, but also the camaraderie, Blair said. There will be 15 people on the actual hike, and most of them are complete strangers, but after 24 hours of hiking together, they will know each other very well, Blair said.

As a veteran of the Air Force and a hiker on this 60-mile trek, Haugh said that the camaraderie developed in extreme situations is really special. Being able to work together through a challenge to service others is what attracted him to the military in the first place, Haugh said.

This is the second time 1Voice will be attempting a 60-mile hike. Last year, March 22, 1Voice and the Samaritan Women, which provides housing for trafficked women, hiked 56 of the 60-mile Tuscarora Trail, Blair said.

Clay Townsend, a volunteer at 1Voice from Frederick, said he had to pull the hikers from the trail last year, because they were giving him the 1,000-yard stare. The hikers were looking at him, but staring 1,000 yards past his face, Townsend said.

Townsend was part of the support team following the hikers by car. The follow vehicles carry water, food and first aid and meet up with the hikers every few miles, Townsend said. This year he will also be on the support team.

The hikers will be fighting physical and mental exhaustion, and it will be his job to pull them out if it becomes too dangerous to continue, Townsend said, comparing himself to a referee having to make a call.

"I think it's going to be one of the toughest things they've ever done," Townsend said.

It will require a group effort to keep moving forward through the pain, he said.

The hike will begin as a leisurely walk in the woods, Townsend said, but eventually a slight incline will lead to mountain peaks, white rocks covering the ground.

"It feels like you're walking on the moon," Townsend said.

The rocky terrain will require technical walking. It will also be essential that the hikers continually restock their bodies with high energy and high calorie drinks and snacks. Hiking 60 miles straight with only several short stops will burn the caloric equivalent of 57 slices of pizza, Townsend said.

Different from previous hikes will be the glow sticks attached to the front and back of each hiker, Townsend said. This is in addition to the headlamp each hiker is required to wear. Eventually, complete darkness will settle around the hikers, and Townsend said there is a fear that hikers will become separated from the group and they won't be noticed as missing. The glow sticks are meant to prevent this.

Finally, after 24 hours of nonstop movement, there will be a feast. Randy Olmstead, chef at the Perfect Truffle, will be providing his time, outdoor cooking equipment and expertise to provide the volunteers with a gourmet meal, Townsend said.

"The most important aspect is that the money goes back to disabled vets," Townsend said.

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