The Richmond Hill Relay for Life may have ended, but one recent visitor to the city walks on in the name of cancer research. New Jersey resident Jim Hickey turned a few heads on Hwy. 17 last week as he added Richmond Hill to the long list of cities he has walked through during his now over 6,000-mile journey.
Armed with only a walking stick and backpack, which has a large sign that says ‘Cancer Walker’ on it, Hickey strolled through Bryan County on his way to Jacksonville. From there, he plans to walk Hwy. 90 all the way to Texas before reaching his final destination of Los Angeles. Hickey said he hopes his cross-country walk will raise awareness for the need for cancer research.
"And it’s all in memory of my dad," Hickey said. "I lost my dad in September of ’95 to prostate cancer. I literally saw my dad die a slow death right in front of my eyes … I just felt I had to do something but I didn’t know what it was. I read an article where a guy walked from Washington D.C. to Boston to raise awareness for hunger, and it just hit me. I quit my job, sold my car, threw caution to the wind, put my backpack on, grabbed a walking stick and said ‘let’s go’."
His current walk is his fourth journey. His first trek lasted from 1995-1999 and took him 2,150 miles from New York to New Mexico. Hickey said he "had over 20 jobs to support myself along the way. I worked as a carnie in Iowa, in the Texas oil fields, waiting tables, dug ditches for a cable company, landscaped – you name it."
His second walk began in 2001 and took him 2,280 miles from Washington D.C. to Denver, Colorado. His third journey, beginning in 2003, lasted 1,100 miles from Virginia Beach to Kentucky.
His current walk began in July from Charlotte, but has taken a slower pace as he caught walking pneumonia in Columbia and then shin splints in Charleston. Hickey said many question his sanity. He said not even he can fully explain exactly why he is enduring such a rigorous routine.
"This is something I don’t control, and I have no idea how I can do what I do," Hickey said. "I was supposed to do this – that’s the best way I can describe it … I don’t care if people remember me, I want them to remember what I’m doing this for. If I save one life, then I’ve done my job. If I save one person from not going through what my dad went through, then all this is worthwhile."
Hickey said he stays longer in a town if he comes across a family or child affected by cancer that needs help.
"I’ll use my walk as a platform through the media to help raise awareness for them," he said. "I seem to attract the media. The Bryan County News is my 161st newspaper article. I’ve also been featured on 97 local newscasts and over 60 radio stations."
Hickey stayed in Savannah for over a week when he became aware of Guyton resident Dave Brantley’s plight. He credited the Fairfield Inn on Hwy. 204 for assisting him in his goodwill mission by comping his week-long stay. Brantley has cancer, five children ages 6-11, no insurance, and "things aren’t looking good for him as the bills are piling up."
"Jim Hickey is an amazing man," Brantley said. "The fact that he’s willing to walk as far as he is to help people like us is an inspiration … Disability should automatically help cancer patients, but I’ve been fighting to get Medicaid since last February. Jim gave us hope during a time when hope is hard to find."
Hickey said he will not forget the Brantleys in his journey and has already arranged for Brantley’s kids to join him as he throws out the first pitch in an upcoming Jacksonville Suns game.
Hickey keeps a journal with him and plans to write a book about it after reaching Los Angeles.
"Everyday on the road is a different story," he said. "Jack Kerouac’s got nothing on me."
To donate to the Brantleys, you can call them directly at 772-6165 or via Hickey’s website at www.cancerwalkusa.com.