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Hiker passing through Jasper on 1,200-km trek for charity

Zach Rusk is taking on the Great Divide Trail to raise funds for the Alberta Sports and Recreation Association for the Blind in honour of his father.
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Zach Rusk is headed to the Great Divide Trail, a 1,200-kilometre route that goes through Alberta and B.C., on July 12.

An Okotoks hiker is heading on an intense adventure for a good cause.

Zach Rusk has been passionate about hiking and backpacking for years, but he'll soon be taking on his greatest wilderness challenge — the Great Divide Trail — to raise funds for the Alberta Sports and Recreation Association for the Blind.

"It starts in Waterton Lakes National Park and then ends at Kakwa Lake Provincial Park, B.C., 1,200 kilometres north," said Rusk, who will be joined by his friend Mark Mitchell from New Brunswick.

The hike, which Rusk and Mitchell are kicking off on July 12, passes through Coleman, Crowsnest Pass, Kananaskis Lakes, Sunshine Village, Field and Jasper before concluding at at Kakwa Lake Provincial Park.

Besides being a challenge he's wanted to tackle for several years now, the trek is also Rusk's fundraiser for an organization that he was inspired to raise funds for after his father was blinded in a hunting accident in Foothills County in 2020.

"He was involved in a serious hunting accident that left him blind and partially paralyzed," said Rusk of his father, who had spent 35 years in the Canadian Armed Forces and served in Afghanistan.

"He's been back home ever since, so things are still hard. His quality life has obviously gone down, but we're still getting through it."

His father, Chris Rusk, was an accomplished outdoorsman before the accident. In 2019, he completed the Great Divide's American route, which is a 4,300-kilometre cycling trail starting at the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico and ending in Banff.

While the incident has barred him from major expeditions, his recovery has been going strong. After intense rehabilitation and physical therapy during which he went into treatment to overcome his loss of speech and other motor skills, he now frequently goes for walks, rides a tandem bike and sees a personal trainer three times a week.

With his father left visually impaired, Rusk found himself delving into the relationship between blindness and physical activity.

"That's when I discovered the Alberta Sports and Recreation Association for the Blind, and then that's when I decided I was going to raise money for them," said Rusk.

The association helps visually impaired people of all ages get involved in sports and other physical activities by helping them overcome barriers. For example, the organization promotes "blind hockey," which is played with a puck that makes noise and moves slower.

"There's other sports that they help with, like a couple that they've invented and then just other ones people without visual impairment play, and they just make it easier and more accessible for people with visual impairment to play any kind of sport," said Rusk.

The hike, which winds between Alberta and B.C. multiple times — hence the name "The Great Divide" — is slated to begin on July 12 and conclude on Aug. 22.

A link to the online fundraiser, which aims to raise $50,000 for the Alberta Sports and Recreation Association for the Blind, is available here.