April 3 is a date junior Tim Conners will always remember for two reasons: It was the day in 2010 when he was diagnosed with leukemia, and it was the day this year when he celebrated one year of being cancer-free.
Conners held an event April 3 called “Tug for Tim,” the name of his Relay for Life team, where he shared the story of his diagnosis and becoming blind. Shortly before earning survivor status, Conners hiked the Grand Canyon through a program with No Barriers USA, and he now plans to hike Mount Kilimanjaro in January 2017 — a feat he is calling “Mount Impossible.” Not even three years ago, he was climbing a hill at the campground of Erik Weihenmeyer, the first and only blind man to climb Mount Everest. For the Kilimanjaro trip, Conners plans to raise $500,000 for funds associated with five organizations that have helped him: No Barriers USA, Make-A-Wish America, the Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse, the Michael Napoleone Memorial Foundation and the Joe Andruzzi Foundation.
Opinion Editor Kayla Dwyer spoke with Conners about his accomplishments in the past year, Relay for Life and what he sees for the future.
Kayla Dwyer: Tug for Tim was as much a chance for you to tell your story as it was a kickoff to Relay for Life. What kind of goals do you have for Relay this year?
Tim Conners: I’d really love to hit 5,000 [dollars] because it’s such an important cause, and I really think, in some ways, it’s attainable. I’m working on this social media thing revolving around painting myself purple. We do the whole paint the campus purple, so on Thursday the 21st, I’m going to paint myself purple. I might set up a bigger Facebook account … where people can go to it, like it and get updates and stuff. … Tug for Tim is a Relay for Life team, and I really like to talk about it in terms of the American Cancer Society because that’s where I see the money going — that’s where I see the benefit coming out of — so I want to focus it on that because that’s really what it’s all about.
KD: Climbing Kilimanjaro is quite the leap from the hill you climbed at Erik Weihenmayer’s campground a few years ago. What brought you to this decision?
TC: We talked before about my Grand Canyon experience. That was one of those … big leaps, and I made it, and I pushed through. There were parts that were definitely hard, but I just kept persisting, and my team was there for me, and we made it through. The feeling was something like no other, and it’s something I can go back to, and I think it inspires people to want to do things themselves. I was sitting in the No Barriers summit in 2015, and I heard about this kid who swam from Alcatraz to the mainland who was blind, and it gave me the idea that I want to try doing something to raise money to help out organizations that have helped me in the past. It was the second year for me attending, and I saw this video about someone who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and the theme for the week at the program was “Unstoppable,” and I’m like, “I’m going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.” … It was just saying something then, and now it’s really becoming a reality. … It’s not just the climb anymore. It’s setting out on something that seems impossible — raising that much money in that short amount of time, doing all of these different things that we want to do and accomplish.
KD: Do you think your having gotten official survivor status had any role in encouraging you to take on this challenge?
TC: In some ways, as sad as this sounds, it’s just another year out. I like to celebrate it and everything, and although the rate goes down significantly for relapsing or getting cancer again, you never know on any given day what can happen. I like to celebrate especially those big moments, like this year, one year cured. … It’s kind of, in some ways, claiming back what cancer could have taken away from me and celebrating being alive still and what I’ve done in the fight against cancer and how I’ve not let it win.
KD: A year ago, you said you weren’t sure what you want to do after college. Are you any more sure now?
TC: As of right now, I’m really pushing toward actually starting up a public speaking, motivational speaking sort of business and working into what that would look like, what kind of a group I would really like to be talking to and working with. I’ve actually started up working with a coach who does this for a living. I started April 1 with it, so I’ll be excited to be working and taking some of the speeches I’ve been doing and seeing what I can do to really work to get my message out because I believe it’s a strong one, and I want to be able to share it with as many people as possible.