Kristin Salzman first met Jenny Kollasch, a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, after experiencing discomfort following one of several surgeries she underwent as part of her stage IIIA breast cancer treatment. "I couldn't lay back, I was hurting so badly," Kristin says. "So someone suggested I go to physical therapy, and that's when I met Jenny."
That was three years ago. In the time since, caregiver and patient have become fast friends. "When we first met, it was like we'd already known each other for a long time," Jenny says. "Sometimes, you just connect with people like that."
Earlier this year, Kristin asked Jenny to take a hike ... with her. More specifically, she asked Jenny to join her for a 40-some-mile hike through the Grand Canyon. Dubbed Rim2Rim, the two-day hike is sponsored by A Project Athena, a non-profit organization "dedicated to helping survivors of medical or other traumatic setbacks achieve their adventurous dreams." The hike would cover the full distance of the canyon's south and north rims. And despite having had surgery last October to repair a torn tendon in her ankle, Jenny accepted. "I just thought to myself, 'Man, I'm a physical therapist. If my patient can do this, I should be able to do it, too,'" she tells us.
After an intense three-month training program, Jenny and Kristin found themselves on a flight to Phoenix, Arizona, late last month. They arrived at the canyon with the other hikers "around 2:30 a.m." the next morning, switched on their headlamps, and began making their way down the canyon's Bright Angel Trail in complete darkness … which Jenny tells us actually worked to her advantage. "That was nice for me because I'm scared of heights," she says. "And so by the time the sun was coming up enough for us to turn our headlamps off that first day, we were already close to the bottom so it was like walking around Minnesota again."
Following a seven-mile hike across the canyon's floor, Jenny, Kristin and their group made their way up the canyon's north rim, where they'd spend the night before heading back out to finish the second leg of the hike. The next day, however, was a bit of a wake-up call. "It was raining the next morning and as we were going down the rocks, things actually got pretty scary," Jenny says.
She and Kristin continued to push through the remaining miles, however, and when all was said and done, Jenny tells us she actually thought about turning around and doing it all over again. But, we're guessing, not without her patient-turned-lifelong-friend. "This really is one of those instances where my patient has given me more than I've given her," Jenny says. "Kristin inspires me to be a better person. And after having had surgery on my ankle, this hike is something I would not have done had it not been for her."
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