Driven for all the right reasons

Published 3:28 pm Monday, September 18, 2017

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

Driven is the perfect descriptor for Jennifer Giddens. A 2013 PHS grad, Giddens and I first met when she was a little girl at Pelham Park watching her brother and my son play baseball. As a high school junior, Giddens had grown into a practical girl with clear ambitions. She did extraordinary work and was up for any challenge.

Discovering that Giddens would graduate from Auburn University a semester early in December 2016 was unsurprising. Discovering the next path that she’d take was shocking.

Jennifer Giddens is enjoying the outdoors closer to home now that she’s completed the Appalachian Trail and raised over $18,000 for pediatric cancer research. (Contributed)

On March 27, 2017, Giddens began a 2,189-mile hike in Georgia that ended four-and-a-half months later on a mountaintop in Maine as she successfully completed the Appalachian Trail. In addition to accomplishing this enormous challenge, Giddens also raised $18,015.10 for Open Hands, Overflowing Hearts—an organization that raises funds for childhood cancer research.

Giddens knew Kayla Funk, the organization’s founder, as a friend of friends in high school. At Auburn University, Funk and Giddens met again. Fighting cancer, Funk needed assistance getting to classes. Giddens was working for the University driving a golf cart transporting students with physical challenges to their campus destinations.

“I’d wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail since the summer after high school graduation,” Giddens said. “When I began talking with Kayla regularly, I knew that raising money for her organization would be the perfect way to make my hike meaningful. I’d joked with my dad for a long time that if I graduated from college a semester early I’d have time to hike the Appalachian Trail before grad school. Every time I got new gear, he’d joke, ‘You’ll need that for the Appalachian Trail.’ I doubt he thought I’d ever start that hike.”

Over 2,000 miles later, John Giddens is impressed with his daughter. Most days, Jennifer Giddens hiked about 25 miles; her longest day was an impressive 37 miles.

“Doing it for the kids kept me going,” Giddens said. “Hiking the Appalachian Trail made me realize that I can meet any challenge.”

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