Challenge Participant Fights Cancer

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge participants take on the challenge for a variety of reasons – as a motivator to keep in shape, to log another event in their books, as a way to connect with friends and family and as a personal goal.

For Kyle Giest, it was cancer that sparked his Challenge. "I had been wanting to get outside and hike more, but found it hard staying motivated during the ups and downs of treatment. I thought having the goal to complete (the Challenge) would help me stay motivated," he said, "And it did!"

Kyle, now 31, was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare pediatric cancer, when he was 25. "At the time it was localized to my foot. I went through a pretty aggressive chemotherapy - 14 rounds - and radiation regimen for the better part of a year. I always found movement and sports really helpful and got into pickleball during that time. I was in remission for 3.5 years when a scan revealed the sarcoma had recurred, metastasizing to my right lung," he said of his most recent diagnosis. Although Kyle lived in Florida, he moved to Pittsburgh to be closer to his mom and underwent another eight rounds of chemo over six months before surgery in mid-March.

Despite treatment and surgery, Kyle maintained a fitness routine and learned about the Challenge last fall, a few months into his chemotherapy treatments. To prepare, Kyle trained with trainer and owner of Union Fitness, Todd Hamer, who has done the Challenge himself several times. "When he heard my story, he graciously offered consultation free of charge and the training plans he came up with really helped keep me on track. I would take a break from training during treatment weeks but jumped right back the following week," Kyle explained, " After surgery in March, it took about a month before I could walk even a mile again. I really didn't think the Challenge would be possible at this point but I was committed to showing up."

Kyle took advantage of the training hikes which not only helped his physical strength, but his confidence. "I just kept walking, and thankfully my body bounced back really fast after that and each week leading up to the Challenge was better and better. The Sunday morning training hikes felt good and after doing a 20 mile hike a couple weeks before the challenge, I felt confident I'd be able to get through the full thing!" he said.

To add to the fun, Kyle’s family and friends turned the Challenge into a three-day affair. "We invited friends and family from all over to come celebrate life with us," he said. Kyle’s sister, Alison, did the full Challenge with him and there were three teams in the Friends & Family component to support and cheer Kyle on. "We had people flying in from Florida, Tennessee, Massachusetts, New York, and even Austria. College friends, family friends from the neighborhood I grew up in, a few new Pittsburgh friends, and family came. We had a big dinner on the Friday night before the Challenge, had post-Challenge ice cream and waffles, and an all-day party with friends, family, neighbors on Sunday at our house," Kyle said.

Kyle also received training and support from family friend and neighbor and longtime Challenge veteran, Tom Armstrong. "He gave me a lot of good advice in the months leading up to the Challenge, including convincing me to use hiking poles. Thanks Tom," he said.

Since the Challenge in June, Kyle is once again facing cancer. In late summer, a scan showed a recurrence and Kyle is now in a clinical trial study through the Cleveland Clinic.

Undeterred, Kyle is still hiking, and in fact, has started a hiking/running group, Frickin’ Friday Trail Dayz held weekly at Frick Park. "I want to keep making friendships and connections and getting people together," he said. Kyle also hopes to inspire others on their own cancer journeys, helping them to train and prepare for the Challenge – whatever length. Kyle is also kicking off a podcast "Cancer Café" to share experiences and interview people in various aspects of cancer organizations and their journeys.

Like many Challengers, Kyle doesn’t think this one will be his last. "If my health allows it, I will definitely be back year after year! There is an open invitation now to my friends and family to do the Challenge with me," he said. Contact Kyle to join him on hikes, etc. at


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