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Participants in an earlier Climb Against Cancer start out on the Climb from the base of Cranmore. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)

CONWAY — Always one of the most spiritually uplifting (and much-needed) fundraising events of the year, the 24th annual Jen’s Friends “Climb Against Cancer” hillclimb returns to Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway on Sept. 18.

With a good weather forecast for Saturday, things are looking good, according to Heather Phillips of the Jen’s Friends board of directors, who notes that this year, the hillclimb for the local cancer foundation will be done both in person and as a virtual online event.

Last year, the climb was done only as a virtual event although a few did actually climb the peak in person.

“We are looking forward to seeing our friends and neighbors in person – the entire board has been speaking about this because there is no way replace the amazing energy that surrounds the day – you literally can feel it when you are there at the mountain, it's almost magical,” said Phillips this week on the eve of the annual climb, which has been taking place since 1998.

On what would have been a perfect day for an in-person Jen’s Friends Climb Against Cancer last year, the virtual version of the 23rd annual event surpassed the $100,000 fundraising goal for the local non-profit, with more than $107,000 raised.

This year’s fundraising goal is once again $100,000, with Jen’s Friends noting that the current total prior to the hike stood at $51, 183.47 as of Thursday, according to the website, jensfriends.org.

“When we had to go 100 percent virtual last year due to COVID-19, it was all new, a bit scary and we didn't know how well we would do. But the success of an all-virtual climb was amazing and we as an organization made the decision to always have a hybrid component to the event so those near and far can participate,” Phillips said.

This year’s virtual fundraising started July 24 and continues through Sept. 18.

Once again, participants have been able to climb, walk, run, bike, crawl or dance, depending on their choice.

Now, come Saturday, participants once again will be able to hike up Cranmore for the restarted in-person “Climb Against Cancer.”

The schedule includes a new twist in that the usual summit dance by Jeanne Limmer’s AXIS Dance Company will instead be moved to the base, along with entertainment by Mango Groove.

The base wil once again be the setting for the annual auction and awards ceremony – new this year, however, will be the way lunch is served:

“Lunch will be available as a grab and go, due to COVID concerns,” said Phillips.

The schedule for this year’s climb:

• 8-930 a.m.: Registration (T-shirts will be available for pick-up);

• 9:10 a.m.: Kick-off Zumba with Dotti Aiello;

• 9:30 a.m.: Start of “Climb Against Cancer;” (Note: the descent will follow a slightly different route than past years to accommodate Cranmore’s Mountain Biking Park, according to Phillips);

• 10:30 - 11:30 a.m.: Entertainment at the base featuring Jeanne Limmer’s AXIS Dance Company;

• 11:30 a.m.: Lunch available, grab and go;

• 12 p.m.: Awards and auction.

The auction is being held online; in-person people can bid on items the day of the event using their cell phones ; in addition, Phillips says Jen’s Friends wil have laptops and volunteers available to help. Winning bids will be announced at the event to enable people ot head home with their items in hand.

Participants can register online. Pledge forms are also available online.

“We have incredible auction items, with over 125 items online and people can bid up to noon on Saturday using their phones and we will have laptops on site to help people make bids on person,” said Phillips.

Jen’s Friends is currently serving 80 families, according to Phillips, who notes that the nonprofit all-volunteer organization meets a budget of about $25,000 a month to serve clients.

“We can't thank our local community enough, from our corporate sponsors, the businesses and individuals that donated items for the auction and the overall support from volunteers and registrants. We are looking forward to a great day!” said Phillips.

Along the route once again will be memorial markers purchased by loved ones in honor of loved ones. Last year, due to events being only held virtually, the board came up with markers prominently on the virtual event page as well, allowing all family and friends, near and far view the “Memory Wall.”

Both versions of the markers are being continued this year.

Jen’s Friends also sells inspiring amulets online and at local participating stores that were created by Susan Eastman of Boulder, Colo, who is the sister of the late Steve Eastman (1949-2008) of Kearsarge, who battled brain cancer. The original kickoff was financed by the late Stoney Morrell of Story Land renown. The sterling silver hand-stamped pendants carry such words as Faith, Hope, Strength, Courage and Believe.

One hundred percent of the funds raised through Jen’s Friends various events go directly to clients. As board member Wendy Holmes notes, “The money that’s raised here stays here.”

Jen’s Friends is named after the late Jennifer Hill.

The daughter of the late Leona and Arthur Hill of North Conway, Jennifer, 26, was a part-time graduate student and part-time U.S. Forest Service employee when she was diagnosed. She had no health insurance, and when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, her brother Doug Hill and friends at his fraternity at the University of New Hampshire came up with the idea of a fundraising climb.

As the Jen's Friends website notes, Jen was open to the idea but only under the condition that they also help others facing similar challenges.

Jen was too ill to be part of the first climb in September 1998, but through the on-site broadcast coverage of WMWV 93.5-FM, she was able to listen.

The first hike in 1998 raised $68,000.

According to Phillips, since then, the organization has raised $3,121,306 in client support and has assisted nearly 1,000 clients/families.

Funds are used to pay clients’ non-medical expenses, such as rent, utilities, groceries, and transportation costs to medical appointments.

As Phillips noted, the "Climb Against Cancer" has become symbolic of the hurdles that cancer patients, survivors, and their families must overcome to win the battle against cancer. Many people participate to celebrate survivorship; others come to commemorate the lives of those who lost the battle with cancer.

For more information about Jen’s Friends and the Climb Against Cancer, go to jensfriends.org. Looking ahead, Jen’s Friends will hold a Dine-to-Donate at Flatbread Company in North Conway on Oct. 25.

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