This award is given to a Trail Dame who has demonstrated fearless courage in the face of overwhelming personal or physical challenges.
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Mary Virginia Lougheed
Born in Knoxville, TN, March 1968, she was the ninth child in a family of 11 children. Virginia’s personality from day one was one that made a strong statement; she was a special person in her own right and had a definite mind of her own.
Intelligent and persevering, she was reading at an early age and spent her school years playing chess and relishing the idea of excelling. Virginia loved being outdoors, facing challenges and proving to everyone that she could do anything!
She graduated from Bradley County High School, Cleveland, TN, with highest honors and shortly afterwards joined the Army Reserves. Her plan was to allow the Military pay for her college education. She went through both basic training and specialist training at Fort Jackson, SC. before a trip home changed her plans.
Returning home from Basic Training she showed her sister a lump in the roof of her mouth. After several doctors’ visits and specialist consultations, cancer was discovered. Within a few days, Virginia was under the surgeon’s knife, removing tissue her upper palate, surrounding tissue in her mouth on the right side from an inch below her eye to her ear, including several back molars, her adenoids and tonsils. Virginia celebrated her 19th birthday in the hospital.
Recuperation took many long months, but Virginia was not to be daunted. She undertook rehab on her own, telling her mother, “The doctors are talking to you, not to me. I am the one involved, so I don’t want you to come to the appointments anymore.”
Virginia was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a very rare and fast-moving cancer. She and her family were told that her life expectancy would be very short. While the unexpected diagnosis changed her immediate plans for college, Virginia remained undaunted. She discovered a tactical course for people with terminal illnesses and decided on a new course of study, Therapeutic (Recreational) Therapy. She spent the next years playing rugby, serving in the Army Reserves and training for a cancer survivor’s marathon in which she pushed her sister in a wheelchair. In other words, she kept living.
The years passed and Virginia continued to beat the odds against her carcinoma. She returned to school and earned a law degree before meeting her partner Bonnie Landon, and moving to Atlanta. Together, Virginia and Bonnie fell in love with the Appalachian Mountains where they enjoyed camping, mountain biking, hiking, and nature in all its glories. As they spent more and more time in the outdoors, they expanded their trips to include family and friends, most especially Virginia’s nieces and nephews with whom they spent many great outings.
For the next seven years, Virginia enjoyed a respite from the cancer. However, in February of 2015 it came back full force, knocking her down but not blowing her over. She travelled with Bonnie and her sisters, to the University of Washington Medical Center for a final attempt at treatment. Sadly, the treatment failed, and Virginia returned home to Atlanta.
Under the care of Home Hospice, Virginia reawakened her dream to trek the entire Appalachian Trail. She learned about the “Appalachian Trail in a Day” program sponsored by Backpackers Magazine. On June 20th, 2015, arrangements were made for her to trek a section of the trail in Georgia. The A.T. from Gooch Gap to Woody Gap is 3 3/8 miles long, and it was thought that Virginia would not be able to walk the entire distance, so efforts were made to obtain a trail buggy to take her over the more difficult sections of the trail. Little did her friends and family know that Virginia, with her strong determination, would walk almost two miles of that trek! It took seven hours…hours in which the hike was handicapped by rain, rocks, roots, and long climbs up and down. Virginia rode the stroller only during episodes of intense pain and after taking medicine. All along the way she was rooted on by family, friends and her co-members of Trail Dames, as well as by many strangers encountered during their trek. Fellow Trail Dames in attendance have called the hike one of the most moving and inspirational things that they have ever been a part of.
At the end of the trail, Virginia stood there grinning as her family and friends cheered for her and celebrated her accomplishment. She thanked them all, and urged them all to never give up.
In Trail Dames, we will remember Virginia….her heart, her spirit and her love for the outdoors. And we will hold fast to the lesson that she strove to teach us all–to never give up.
Thank you for being a Dame, Virginia.