OCEAN CITY — One man’s journey across the state of Maryland on foot and on a bicycle for the benefit of a children’s cancer charitable organization is expected to end at the Ocean City Inlet sometime on Saturday.
Last Sunday, Baltimore area meteorologist Justin Berk began his hiking and biking journey across Maryland at the summit of the Wisp ski resort in Western Maryland and he is expected to arrive in Ocean City for a reception at the Inlet sometime on Saturday. When Berk was 14, he nearly lost a leg to a staph infection and battled long odds to achieve athletic, academic and professional success.
In an effort to commemorate his own personal journey, and perhaps more importantly to raise funds to support young cancer patients and survivors in Maryland, Berk decided to undertake the trans-state trek across Maryland from one mountainous corner to the seashore in Ocean City. He is undertaking the trek on behalf of the Cool Kids Campaign, a non-profit organization devoted to improving the quality of life for pediatric oncology patients and their families by focusing on the academic, social and emotional needs brought on by a cancer diagnosis.
His symbolic journey has captured significant attention on social media sites from his 160,000 Facebook followers and 17,000 Twitter followers. His goal is to get a donation of $1 from every one of his Facebook followers, which would top out at a remarkable $160,000, but his more realistic goal is $14,000, which represents the age at which he became ill and almost lost his leg. As of mid-week, Berk’s fundraising drive had topped $8,300 with three days left in the journey.
Berk started the trip on Sunday in western Maryland. He starts each day with a 27-mile hike, symbolic of the 27 years since he was ill, followed by a 14-mile bike ride, symbolizing his age when he was sick. As of Thursday, he was preparing to cross the Bay Bridge onto the Eastern Shore and was on schedule for his arrival in Ocean City on Saturday.
“He’s moving right along,” said Cool Kids Campaign Director Katie Bennett, who has been monitoring Berk’s progress. “He’s expected to move through Anne Arundel County and over the bridge on Thursday and hopes to make it to Easton. On Friday, he will hopefully make the leg from Easton to Salisbury, where he will stay on Friday night. On Saturday, he is expected to complete the last 30 miles or so from Salisbury to Ocean City.”
Each day along the journey, Berk, through his social media sites, tells the story of one of the Cool Kids who either has cancer or is a cancer survivor. He has been met along the way by other cancer survivors or those suffering from various illnesses who have joined him for a brief part of the journey, according to Bennett.
“Just yesterday he met a woman named Jennifer at a Starbucks in Annapolis and she joined him for a while on his hike through that area,” she said. “Almost every day he meets somebody that has their own story to tell and he shares their own personal journeys on his sites. Each day and each leg is dedicated to one of our Cool Kids, but it really has kind taken on a life of its own with people joining along the way and I don’t think he anticipated that.”
Bennett said she was not certain just when Berk would arrive at the Ocean City Inlet on Saturday, although he has a comparatively short leg to complete after arriving in Salisbury on Friday night.
“We’ll be waiting for him at the Inlet with a reception and a little party of some sort,” said Bennett. “He has done so much for Cool Kids and we can’t begin to thank him. We encourage anybody that wants to come out and welcome him in Ocean City although we’re not certain the exact time. We also encourage anyone touched by his story and his trek across the state to go on his site and make a donation because it’s so important.”