July 27, 2009

By Amy Farnum
NCAA.com

After finishing his tennis career as an Atlantic 10 All-Academic honoree last spring, Charlotte’s Brad Clinard set out on a new challenge at the beginning of May – hiking the Appalachian Trail – to celebrate his graduation.

“It was something I had wanted to do since I was in high school,” said Clinard.  “I’d done some small hikes and knew people tried to do the whole thing.”  

The native of High Point, N.C., met fellow Charlotte student Will Haywood, who also shared an interest in hiking and the pair formed a plan to conquer the 2,178-mile Trail – the nation’s longest marked footpath.

But Clinard, an Economics major who graduated with a 3.864 GPA, not only wanted attempt the trek, but wanted to make a difference while he was on the Trail, spreading the word about raising money for local hunger.

“With the economy and everyone hurting so badly, we just felt like it was a good way to give back,” said Clinard.  “We knew we were doing something that we had the potential to raise some money.”

Clinard and Haywood formed a non-profit organization named Trail Mix Trekkers with the mission of “making a difference one adventure at a time, supporting community organizations with the proceeds from our efforts and your donations.”  They handed out business cards with information about their cause to anyone they encountered on the Trail, and will be taking donations throughout the end of the year.

The duo began their journey in Maine, hiking the 100-mile Wilderness and seeing just four people in the state.  They planned to make the trek through 14 states to Georgia in 90 days, but during the July 4th weekend, Clinard was bit by a tick and contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and a temperature of 104 degrees.

“My neck froze up and I was having chills, fever and headache,” said Clinard.  “I couldn’t move my neck for four days and was sick for about a week total.”

After hiking 985 miles in two months, Clinard was forced to stop in Pennsylvania because of the illness.  

“It took two days to decide whether I would keep going,” said Clinard.  “One night, I guess because of the high fever, I was delirious, and we realized I couldn’t stay there anymore.  The next morning, I hitched a ride to a bus station and took a Greyhound to my hometown of High Point, N.C.  I promptly went to hospital.”

The doctors administered antibiotics, and Clinard was back to normal in a few days, but decided not to return to the Trail for the entire hike.  He did, however join Haywood for a 30-mile trek in Virginia two weeks ago.  Haywood is on track to finish up the full journey in mid-August.  

“Despite the fact I had to leave the trail, I really feel like I accomplished the things I set out to and my journey over the summer was very successful,” said Clinard.  
During the trip, Clinard was deeply touched by the generosity of strangers.

“We had a lot of situations where complete strangers opened their homes to us, and cooked us dinner or let us take a shower and do our laundry,” said Clinard.  “It was unexpected.  I expected to be in the woods the whole time.  When we were in Maine, we only saw four people the whole time.  But once we headed south, we started running into more people.  People were so friendly and helpful, and that was really a wonderful experience.”

In a few short weeks, Clinard will begin another journey at the University of Georgia where he will pursue a graduate degree in Sports Administration and Policy.  

“There was a really wonderful staff at Charlotte, and I was blessed to be work with a lot of our administration, especially through SAAC, and see how much went on behind the scenes,” said Clinard.  “I would really like to give back, and I think the college environment would suit my personality well.  I can directly attribute (my career pursuits) to the wonderful experience I had as a student-athlete.”

For more information about Clinard’s trek down the Appalachian Trail, go to www.trailmixtrekkers.com.