A grand plan to fight cancer

By: Sarah Willets - swillets@civitasmedia.com

LUMBERTON — When Maria Parker told her friends and family she was planning to run across the Grand Canyon, they didn’t ask if she had lost her mind.

“People don’t say that any more,” the Lumberton resident said. “They used to say that. Now my mom and dad just shake their heads and say be careful.”

“Crossing the Canyon” is Parker’s latest effort to to raise money for brain cancer research. Along with brain cancer survivor and Ironman triathlete, BethAnn Telford, Parker will trek 21 miles across the canyon on a steep, rugged route with more than 10,000 feet in elevation change.

And they plan to do it in a single day.

Parker’s charity, 3000 Miles to A Cure, is partnering with Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure for the effort. Parker began her fight against brain cancer just months after her sister, Jenny Mulligan, was diagnosed with the disease. In 2013, she took on the Race Across America, a grueling, 3,000-mile bicycle ride across the country, with that mission.

On Saturday, the two will race from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, down to the canyon floor, across the canyon, and up to the South Rim.

“We like the Grand Canyon rim to rim run because it’s just really symbolic. The problem with brain cancer is there’s just not a lot of research … It just doesn’t get to clinical trials. They call that the valley of death.”

In preparation for the trek, Parker said she has been running steps Brook Stadium at Lumberton High School. But in addition to the new workout regimen, Parker says her mindset is different going into Crossing the Canyon than it was when she took on Race Across America.

“When I did RAAM, I always had my sister on my mind,” she said. “I’m feeling a lot more positive about the future for people. There’s a lot of exciting research going on. At that time I was just desperate and I really wanted to save my sister’s life. She’s been gone for over a year now so I’m coming to terms with that in part because of the generosity and kindness of people in Robeson County.”

Parker said she feels closer to her original goal now, especially working alongside Telford, who has raced marathons and Ironman courses despite being mostly blind in her left eye and suffering from seizures as a result of her brain cancer.

“She is an inspirational athlete who has used her brain cancer diagnosis to motivate herself and others to fight for a cure,” Parker said. “In addition to running marathons and doing triathlons, BethAnn spends all her free time helping children who have been diagnosed with cancer.”

Parker hopes to raise $250,000 for brain cancer research through Crossing the Canyon.

“Even small gifts will make an impact. I so appreciate the generosity of my friends and neighbors. Because of you, my grief and sorrow has turned to hope,” she said.

Since founding 3000 Miles to a Cure, more than $125,000 has been raised. Parker ultimately hopes to raise $1 million.

Parker and Telford will capture the epic journey via Google Glass and organizers plan to make a short documentary about “Crossing the Canyon.” Parker’s record-setting Race Across America ride became the subject of a documentary called “HOPE,” which was directed by Mulligan’s son, Tim. Mulligan passed away in June 2014.

Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.

Sarah Willets