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‘Blister Sisters’ to hike to raise funds for childhood cancer research

By Susan Shinn
For the Salisbury Post

What do two psychologists, hiking, comedy clubs and children’s cancer research have in common?

Jessica Walker and Jill Kays, otherwise known as the Appalachian Blister Sisters, are diligently training this spring to hike 28.3 miles with Ultimate Hike. These hikes are fundraisers that take place around the country. The best friends, who have been taking on challenging races together for the past several years, are raising money for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer.

Their team goal is $5,000. The overall goal for this hike is $150,000. Jessica and Kim have received donations from family and friends, sure, but they also have an unusual way to raise the money.

Two comedy events are set for April — one on April 4 at UpStage, 3306-C N. Davidson St., Charlotte, and one on April 17 at Trinity Oaks, 728 Klumac Road, in the Special Events Room.

Laughter, Jessica says, is indeed the best medicine.

“Part of our friendship is being active together and taking on a new physical challenge ever year,” says Jill, 30. “This is the first challenge that has a fund-raising piece. It gives us a reason to spend time together. It felt like something new and different. We like the charity component, too.”

It’s not an event that’s full of athletes, says Jessica — just a group of people working together for a common cause.

Jessica, 40, commutes to the VA Medical Center each day from Badin Lake, while Jill travels from Charlotte.

Jessica admits that she struggled to secure corporate sponsorship for the team.

“A friend advised me to do what I know,” she says, “and I’ve been involved in local theater.”

Back in the day, she says, she was involved with an improv group that’s become known as Now Are the Foxes. Jessica’s parents are Deb and Marty Walker, and her father has also been a theater regular.

Cale Evans works with local improv groups here and in Charlotte, and is putting together the two charity events.

“It couldn’t have happened without him,” Jessica says. “The theater community is a tight community.”

Improv Charlotte, as Jessica and Jill have discovered, routinely donates to charities.

“They are a very generous group,” Jessica says, “and this is huge for us.”

Jessica calls the Salisbury event a win-win-win.

“Now Are the Foxes are always looking to get their name out there,” she says. “They have a huge following here. They’re a local favorite. Ann Pressly at Trinity Oaks is always looking for creative and fun entertainment for the residents.”

And the event is definitely a win for the women. If you’d like to attend the Salisbury event, simply send an email to rsvptrinityoaks@gmail.com to reserve your seat. And bring a $10 donation to give to Jill and Jessica at the door. Or more.

“We won’t stop you from giving more!” Jessica says.

The Trinity Oaks event promises to be a night of fun and entertainment with adult themes, Jessica says. But if you’d rather venture to the big city, by all means go for it, the women say. Jessica says she expects the Charlotte event to sell out, because it is a small venue.

“You want to get online and get those tickets!” Jessica says.

The two are well past the halfway mark on their fundraising, and must finish before the hike on May 16. They’ll head out at 3:30 a.m. on the Foothills Trail, just south of Upper Whitewater Falls at the North Carolina border, and hike to Oconee State Park in South Carolina — what should be a 14-hour hike.

“You start in pitch black and hope to end before the sun goes down,” Jessica says.

The women are breaking in their hiking books and have bought poles and other equipment to take with them along the way, camelbacks and headlamps, included.

“I’ve been told that our name is appropriate,” Jessica says.

They solicited friends and family for their team name, Jill says, “but we made the ultimate decision. We each had vetoes.”

Their tagline for their adventure: We are sacrificing our soles for this worthy cause. Please help us tell children’s cancer to take a hike!

Although they don’t know children who’ve had cancer, Jill’s mom died of the disease and Jessica’s mom is a breast cancer survivor.

“We’ve had a lot of support from friends and family,” Jessica says. “We’re overwhelmed that they’re gotten us where we are.”

Friends, she says, have come out of the woodwork to help.

“It’s humbling and it makes me want to give more,” Jessica says. “It’s so rewarding.”

“We just want to survive the trek in one piece,” Jill says.

The women use events such as this to stay motivated.

“These challenges have changed my life,” says Jill, who’s lost 35 pounds over the past several years. “It gives me something to keep training for.”

“We live on the water,” Jessica says, “so I do kayaking, and hiking in the woods.”

And they know that it’s not about them, or even about the hike. It’s the kids they’ll help.

“We have the easy part,” Jessica says. “One hike during one day is easier than battling cancer.”

For more information about Jessica Walker and Jill Kays’ fundraising project, visit their Web site, www.ultimatehike.org/fh15/blistersisters.

The website for Improv Charlotte reservations is www.upstagenoda.com.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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