O’Connor, a 2014 Lakota West High School graduate, is out to prove the doctors wrong and demonstrate the importance of never giving up while raising funds for pediatric cancer patients through his non-profit.
“Never walk normal again,” O’Connor said he was told by doctors after his right fibula was removed. “I know first-hand how a family’s dreams can get shattered. It’s important to consistently show hope and light.”
This 3,000-mile “Walk for Hope” kicks off June 17 in New York City with stops scheduled in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, Kansas City, Topeka, Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and ends in Los Angeles.
“This will test me mentally and physically,” said O’Connor, who hopes to average 22 miles a day.
To prepare for walking 3,000 miles, O’Connor has trained with West Chester-native and retired mixed martial arts champion Rich Franklin, 46, whom he met through a mutual acquaintance last year.
O’Connor, a license real estate agent, has put his career on hold to concentrate on training and raising money for his non-profit.
He has allotted four months for his journey and will be documenting through videos, a blog series, social media and journaling while meeting and talking with people along the way, he said. Proceeds from sponsorships and monies raised will go to Champions Do Overcome, a charity he founded, to benefit and aid pediatric cancer patients and their families.
O’Connor wants to visit children’s hospitals throughout his walk, though he knows COVID-19 restrictions may limit those interactions with young patients.
“I want this walk to shed light on the ongoing mental and emotional toll that cancer can have on a person and their family,” said O’Connor, who will travel with a team of 2-3 people throughout the walk. “I want this journey to spread positivity, especially following a year that has been dark to many.”
He certainly understands the impact cancer can have on a person. He was a 14-year-old high school freshman when he was diagnosed. His parents were going through a divorce, and they poured all of their time and money toward their son’s cancer.
His parents, who were working full time, eventually filed for bankruptcy in order to continue to provide for themselves and their seven children.
“It’s a family illness,” he said during a phone interview. “It’s a shock for the patient, shock for mom and dad, grandma, brothers and sisters, all the way down the ranks. It changes what the family does every day.”
So throughout his journey, O’Connor said he will think of the kids who are walking in his shoes.
“I want them to see my leg and believe,” he said. “They need to know that with willpower, faith and drive dreams can become reality.”
One step at a time. Or three miles every day.
HOW TO HELP
Sponsorships still needed for the “Walk of Hope” include: hotel rooms, transportation (rental car or RV), gas/fuel, audio gear, camping gear, video equipment, camera gear, bandages/wraps, bottled water, sunscreen, etc.
Anyone interested in sponsoring can contact Cody O’Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.ChampionsDoOvercome.org.