Ever since I can remember, my older brother, Kurt, and I were raised to appreciate our time outside. Whether we were on one of our many camping trips in Northern Michigan or just playing in the creek near our house, our connection to nature helped shape who we are today.
My affinity for the outdoors continued into high school when I joined my classmates on an 11-day backpacking trip to the rugged Smoky Mountains along the North Carolina-Tennessee border. Without fully realizing it at the time, this trip intensified my passion for the wilderness. No longer was I just a child bewildered by nature, I now grasped valuable techniques to navigate and survive in the wild.
As Kurt and I went off to college, our trips began to grow with us. Our tent was no longer a fort in our backyard, but became our necessary shelter in the wild. We embraced this newfound independence and ventured out whenever possible (although I'm sure our mom missed those stress-free nights in the backyard). We have been fortunate enough to hike in locations around the world – New Hampshire's White Mountains, Gamskarkogel in the Austrian Alps and Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland – to list some of the highlights.
This interest in nature followed me into the classroom. I learned how humans are interdependent on the environment for survival and was taught the importance of reducing our impact to preserve our natural world. At the University of Michigan, I was introduced to another passion in my life – neuroscience. I found it fascinating to learn how biological behaviors originate on a cellular and molecular level. I was eager to discover more. During my junior year, I joined a behavioral neuroscience research laboratory, where I studied the effects of drug abuse on the amygdala, a brain region responsible for emotional behavior and motivation.
After graduating from Michigan in 2016, I was offered a research position at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in a neurology lab dedicated to the study of ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases. With nature and outdoor activities being such a focal point in my life, I feel like it is my duty to help improve the lives of those unable to perform a task as simple as strolling around a park. Although I seldom see a direct impact on patients’ lives through my experimental research, the idea of helping those afflicted with this disease continues to drive my everyday practice.
As Kurt finishes his first year at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, we recognize that it is becoming harder to find time for our adventures together. Today, we are more grateful than ever to be given the chances to continue to build upon our earthly experiences and survival skills. With this summer allowing us both time off, we have decided to undertake our biggest endeavor to date – a 720-mile bicycle trip from Lincoln City, Oregon to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. What started as another one of our brotherly bonding adventures quickly grew to something much more meaningful as we decided to raise $1 each for every mile traveled to donate to the National MS Society. Pursuing careers in the medical field and, more importantly, having family members that live with multiple sclerosis gave us powerful incentives to do our part and make a real difference. This can only be made possible through the generous support from all others who, like us, believe in the giving everyone the chance to enjoy the great outdoors.
You can learn more about Mark and Kurt’s journey and see the progress of their goal here.