For the past 50 days, Ashland activist and widow Ginny Auer has taken a daily hike as part of a spiritual journey and to raise money for the local therapists who make up Kids Konnected — a national organization founded on the premise that when a parent gets cancer, the entire family is affected, especially the children.
Through hot summer days and cool autumn rains, Auer hiked alone with her dog, alongside fast friends, and sometimes while holding the hand of her 8-year-old daughter, Tess, as the two honored the legacy of their beloved husband and father, Troy Hemmerling.
Kids Konnected meets the first and third Tuesday of each month from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Sharing Place, 916 10th St., Medford. If you would like to donate to the organization, mail or drop off a check for Kids Konnected to United Way of Jackson County, 769 Spring St., Medford, OR 97504.
"I called it the 'Widow's Walk.' But I have been so incredibly supported along the way," Auer said.
Auer's hikes have consisted of anywhere from one to 10 miles on local trails. She has managed to raise more than $1,500. And she'd like to raise more.
"The counselors haven't been paid in months," Auer said.
Auer began her pilgrimage this summer after she and Tess returned from a deeply personal spiritual quest in honor of Hemmerling, who after a 16-month struggle, lost his battle with a rare form of cancer on April 21, 2011.
Before Hemmerling died, he wrote Auer a letter and placed it inside a card. He signed it, "LIVE HUGE, Troy."
And so they did. All summer long. And so Auer continues to do. She began her fundraising pilgrimage on what would have been Hemmerling's 50th birthday. Along the way, she has been supported by her friends, her daughter, and especially by her husband, she said.
"It's still a spiritual experience," Auer said. "I've realized I'm carrying Troy with me. I'm carrying a part of who he taught me to be. It's what he would have wanted me to pass on to Tess."
Hemmerling taught Auer to be was active and to enjoy the outdoors, she said.
"I would very likely be a very heavy person, who watched a lot more television, if I hadn't met Troy," Auer said. "He had such an incredible connection with nature."
Auer had to wait a year after Hemmerling died to tour the country with their daughter and introduce her to the people and places that meant so much to him, because during his illness, she suffered a hip injury. Three months after his death, she was undergoing a hip resurface surgery.
After traveling around the country, eating whatever she wanted, and sitting on trains, planes and automobiles, Auer said she gained over 20 pounds.
"My plan has always been that after the tour, that I would do something outdoors to get back into shape and to commemorate my healing both physically and emotionally," Auer said.
Hemmerling also brought his creative talents to bear designing sets for regional theaters, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Utah Shakespearean Festival. And he played competitive level ultimate Frisbee for over 17 years, designing hats, discs and shirts for many teams and tournaments along the way. Hemmerling directed Ashland's annual Cramp Up Ultimate Tournament for 13 years, Auer said.
Players are coming together this Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. at Medford's Fichtner-Mainwaring Park, 334 Holmes Ave. They will dress up in costumes, play ultimate Frisbee, and honor Hemmerling's motto: "We must be brave, foolish, joyful and generous," Auer said.
Auer also hopes they will continue to raise money for Kids Konnected. To donate, visit http://www.crowdrise.com/scareup/fundraiser/ginnyauer1, or mail or drop off a check at United Way, 769 Spring St., Medford, OR 97504-0188, Auer said.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.