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Q&A with Kramer School of Nursing Student Connor Petty

Connor Petty, a 3rd-year BSN-DNP student at OCU, recently joined his friend Steven Marrs for a trip to the San Luis Peak in Colorado. Steven’s cerebral palsy drastically limits his mobility, but the two adventure fiends didn’t let that stop them from hiking 14,000 feet. They purchased special equipment through a GoFundMe page and completed the trek in August.

Q&A with Connor

Q: How did your close friendship start at Camp Barnabas?

A: Steve-O and I worked at Camp Barnabas in 2014, and we were handing out medals at the Camp Barnabas Half Marathon Biggest Party. While we were handing out the medals, Steve-O said to me, “I’ve always wanted to do a marathon.” I was touched and inspired that a man in a wheelchair that needs complete assistance would dare to dream for something like running a marathon. So I said, “let’s do it.” That was the start for us. That’s when we knew we had a special friendship where we could dare to dream big, do the impossible, and invite a loving community to join in the journey.

Q: What would you say is Steve-O’s best quality?

A: He is fearless, and it gives me courage. He will think up these crazy adventures and know that it is impossible for him to do it by himself, yet he's not stressed, anxious, or even worried about that. With passion and patience, he waits on the Lord. He puts the work in and pushes himself to realize a dream without the outcome or even a fully formed plan in place. It is straight up fearless faith.

Q: What was your first thought when you started the discussion about the hiking trip? What made you interested?

A: Steve-O is an Eagle Scout and hasn’t had many chances to go camping. We both love being outside, and after running a lot of races (marathons and half marathons) together, we thought this would be a great next challenge. We never knew how hard and long of a process that would be. From the time we first mentioned it, it took us 5 years to complete the project. But it was worth it. Through Steve-O’s vision and dreams, he showed me a new way of possibilities … to have faith and strive for all that the world can offer. By climbing 14,000 feet, I hoped to give Steve-O a new perspective of the world outside of his chair, to feel truly free.

Q: What obstacles did you run into?

A: The hiking chair we used was heavy (about 65lbs), and the rest of us had packs that were about 30-40 pounds as we operated the chair. Having good communication as we went was key. It was hard work, and the altitude pushed us to the limit. In half-way camp, we went 4 miles to 12,500 ft elevation, and it took us 6 hours. The next day, we went light but had to climb much higher. As we neared 13,000 ft on the second day, we realized the chair was too risky as the trail got steep and rocky. I put Steve-O on my back, and we hiked the 1-1.5 miles and 1,000 ft climb to the summit. Other than the hike, finding creative ways to adapt the outdoors to Steve-O's functionality was a challenge he and I both enjoy.

Q: Were there any times when you thought it wouldn’t work out?

A: Yes. The first day he arrived at my house I started wondering, "Is this the time I've finally bitten off more than I can chew?" I love seeing the limits, and I still haven't found them yet, so Steve-O and I will always keep pushing. When we put the heavy packs on and started down the trail, the first 500 yards to a mile were brutal. Everything in our bodies screamed to stop: our backs under the load, our feet on the rocky and root-filled ground, and our arms as we lifted and pulled/pushed the chair. That’s when we knew we had a long way to go. This is when you listen to your body, rather than silence it, and command it to get comfortable. And as you dive into the pain, doubt, and weakness of our own body, you find a place of inner strength and external power, what Steve-O and I look at as Holy Spirit Power. Right at the end of giving up, when you think you've given 100% and you keep going is this Holy Spirit Power that never gives up and finds victory to push on. This is grace. At the end of us is Jesus Christ’s love for us that is so much greater and more power that finds us in times of great love and vulnerability to meet us and get us to new heights.

Q: What was it like seeing everyone come together to make the GoFundMe a reality?

A: It was inspiring and intimidating. We had done so much to prepare: the hours of training my body, the numerous planning sessions for gear and logistics, and the faithful steps into the void of unknown scheduling. Steve-O and I have always said, "Dream big, do the impossible, and Invite a loving community into the journey.” In less than a week, we had $1,000 over our goal of $6,800, and we realized this trip is so much bigger than just ourselves. People are looking for love, hope, and courage in this time, and we found we could be a healing hand to a world that is hurting. Just by showing our friendship, we are giving people a new perspective. And now we're bringing others on this journey with us, which can be a weight of responsibility, but there is no other place I'd rather be. This is a purpose-filled life. It's overwhelming to see that kind of generosity from so many who you love and admire. My investment to the project and Steve-O makes sense to me because we're friends and have known each other for a while and enjoy doing adventures like this. But to see so many people invest in something like this without that same history, just purely out of the kindness of their hearts is an unworldly feeling. We are truly blessed to know so many great friends and family. This could have never happened without them.

Q: What was the best part?

A: It’s easy to say summiting and seeing a bull moose were the best because they were our top wishes for the trip. But I'd have to say they pale in comparison to the journey itself. Being with your best friends – struggling, laughing, and finding new limits of possibility – is the best experience in the world. In the end, that’s why Steve-O and I do this. That’s why we run marathons and hike mountains: because it’s time to soul search and spend time together. This was different scenery (and amazingly beautiful), but it all comes back to friendship, and that’s the best part of every adventure.

Connor and Steven's story will be featured in the fall issue of Focus Magazine.

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