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Back to the Beach | Climb for Courage Virginia Beach 2023

By Maxwell Svec, One Summit, Director of Programs

By Maxwell Svec, One Summit, Director of Programs

On November 18th, we again concluded our year of Climb for Courage (CFC) programs in Virginia Beach. This was our second climb in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area, a community where the SEAL teams are embedded in the landscape. On my last trip to the area, I did not get to walk on the beach or explore the boardwalk, so on this visit, I took an early morning stroll to see the Navy SEAL monument and the iconic King Neptune statue. The SEAL monument depicts an underwater demolition swimmer from WWII standing upon, as the plaque states, "a horned scully, typical of the obstacles he risked his life to destroy." The Naval presence, so clearly woven into the fabric of this region, made the first CFC program we hosted here in 2022 feel incredibly special, and this year was no different.

This year's climb was full of friendship-building, climbing and conquering walls, and lots and lots of Be Free Craft Ice Cream! We welcomed even more Little Warriors than we did in 2022, thanks to our friends at both Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters and Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, who helped us recruit the wonderful families that participated. We had 18 patients and siblings, 14 Navy SEAL mentors, and 5 Team Leaders and volunteers who came together for an inspiring afternoon. You could feel the excitement in the gym as the families began checking in, all arriving early in anticipation of the fun day ahead! The mentors hid out of sight until the parents and guardians joined them to form the gauntlet, through which the Little Warriors were led as the group erupted in cheers and high fives. The matching ceremony got underway, and each child was soon paired with a mentor. While the parents and guardians scooted out the door for a few hours rest, the crowd split off into four teams to get to know each other and create names for their groups. Our team names were the Pink Crocodile Ice Cream Sundaes, the Black Scorpions, Operation SEALs, and the LEGO Climbers—fine names indeed! Before long, everyone was getting fitted for a harness, putting on camo helmets and hats, and picking out their first routes to attempt.

It didn't take long before you could look around the gym and find mentors and kids on every wall at every height. They were off climbing, eating pizza and ice cream, chatting in quiet corners, getting to know one another, and working to reach the goals they had set together at the beginning of the day. Some Little Warriors aimed to climb at least halfway up the towering walls; some wanted to make it to the highest reaches. Others simply wanted to have fun, "eat more ice cream," or "get our minds off things for a while." Most times, the goals at these climbs aren't grand or extreme, and it doesn't matter if they have anything to do with climbing. Resilience is often about the little wins and small achievements, and at Climb for Courage, that can look like eating five cookies, getting past a tricky climbing hold, or just trying something new. No matter the goal, all around the gym, you could see and hear the kids, siblings and new friends alike, cheering one another on to achieve whatever they had set out to accomplish.

Before we knew it, the parents and caregivers began returning to the gym, where they found their children spread out on almost every wall, still laughing, climbing, and, yes, still consuming ice cream! I asked how the time away was, and all the parents said they enjoyed a few moments to relax, going out for lunch or coffee or simply doing a Costco run on their own. We'll tell you firsthand that we certainly needed a wholesale warehouse amount of wipes and paper towels to clean all of the dried ice cream from around their kids' mouths! The families watched the kids and mentors climb together, which is always a very special part of the day. One boy, who wasn't feeling well for most of the event and was unsure about climbing, scaled the wall with his mentor for the first time precisely when his parents showed back up at the gym. His dad (and, admittedly, the One Summit staff) may have shed a tear at the boy's remarkable push through discomfort to give it a try. As I alluded to earlier—resilience is often wrapped in tiny packages. It wasn't easy to pull them away, but the kids and mentors took their final repels down from the rafters, removed their now broken-in harnesses, and finished their last scoops of ice cream before the final pinning ceremony. This Climb for Courage tradition involves each mentor bestowing upon their mentee a trident, a sacred symbol for Navy SEALs. One by one, each of the 18 Little Warriors received their pin as every mentor said aloud a short anecdote about their mentee and their accomplishments throughout the afternoon. As the ceremony came to a close and the kids looked down proudly on their freshly bestowed tridents, our team felt sadness at the climb's conclusion. Yet, excitement stirred within us for deepening our presence in the Virginia Beach and Norfolk area in the new year ahead.

Before our climbs, we ask the Little Warriors what they think a Navy SEAL is. In answer to that question, here are some of the responses we got from this particular program's participants:

  • "I think Navy SEALs are brave and strong soldiers who are kind and helpful."
  • "A military member like my dad."
  • "A person who goes on missions."
  • "Navy dudes!"
  • "A person that does brave stuff."

As we reflect on this, our final climb of 2023, that last thought unquestionably resonates with us. In addition to each of our Navy SEAL mentors, all the patients, survivors, siblings, parents, caregivers, and hospital staff with whom we have the pleasure of crossing paths each year are all people who do brave stuff. We are so grateful for every one of them, especially our kind and helpful "Navy dudes" who undertake our CFC missions time and time again. The feedback from families, mentors, and volunteers immediately following the climb illustrates our mission's impact. The testimonials below fortify our commitment to improving outcomes for our resilient little warriors with year-round support and growing our presence in the Virginia Beach community.


[My son] was very hesitant to be around so many people and was unsure he wanted to try but when I came back, he was swinging around and so happy!

– Parent

Climb for Courage is an amazing event. I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, than my mentee.

– Navy SEAL Mentor

I was able to climb higher and with confidence!

– Little Warrior

Our son was coming off chemo, not at his best. Even though he would get waves of ick, he was comfortable watching and talking with the other kids and loved socializing again. His mentor was patient and willing to sit and keep him company and encouraged him to finally try a rock wall once he felt up to it. We hope to meet up again when our son is even stronger, he can't wait to challenge himself more!

- Parent

[Climb for Courage] is a life-changing experience. I haven't had the opportunity to do a climb in a few years. I forgot all the feelings and emotions that arise throughout the weekend. It makes me refocus on what truly matters in life.

- Navy SEAL Mentor

I was happy when I showed up, but now I'm happy and know I never give up!!

– Little Warrior

[When asked if they noticed a difference in their child after CFC] Yes! Increased confidence and improved energy/purpose for her battle. [It] far exceeded anything I could have expected or thought of!

– Parent

[When asked their most memorable moment at CFC] Seeing a Little Warrior go from, "I'm not built for this" to actually suiting up and getting on the wall at the end. Awesome moment!

– Team Leader

My little warrior was a sibling, and seeing how he supported his brother and the other kids at the event shows that cancer affects the whole family. These events give them a day of respite from the fight, and a place to succeed in a safe environment.

- Navy SEAL Mentor

Before, man, I felt embarrassed. After, I FEEL AWESOME!

– Little Warrior

These sentiments wouldn't be possible without our wonderful sponsors and partners. We are incredibly grateful to Love Your Melon for supporting One Summit financially throughout the year and for their continuous in-kind donations of their beloved hats for our crew of climbers! As you can see, the hats were a great addition to the event and a sought-after takeaway for the chillier months ahead. Thanks for supporting us and keeping us warm!

We send our gratitude to Julia Sora, Founder of Zeal Cares, for donating lip balms for all our Little Warriors, mentors, and volunteers, along with their little reminder to Never Give Up! Zeal Cares supplied all our climbing programs this year with balms for our participants, and we're beyond grateful. In addition, we want to thank Rob and the staff at Send It Climbing for being so accommodating, kind, and supportive—your gym was a wonderful place to host our program. We would also like to thank the Agnes M. Lindsay Trust for their financial support that helped us return to Virginia Beach for another year. For keeping all of the adults caffeinated, we'd like to thank mentor Stephen for fueling us with your Voyager Cold Brew Coffee. You kept us going! We would be remiss if we failed to give an enormous shoutout of appreciation to Be Free Craft Ice Cream, owned by One Summit mentor and veteran Chris Fettes. Not only was the ice cream he donated to the event absolutely out of this world, but his passion for and love of ice cream making is nothing short of inspirational. His sweet treats were delectable and adored by everyone on site that day, something that was easy to see just by looking around. Eating ice cream might have been a more popular activity than the rock climbing! Thank you for all your contributions to One Summit, Chris.

Last but certainly not least, we send our unending gratitude and appreciation to the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters (CHKD) staff for ensuring our flyers and program information made it to the families receiving treatment there. We are so appreciative of all you do each day for your patients and their families. Thank you also to Chris Brogan from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth for connecting with us and referring your patients to our program. We look forward to working with you in 2024 and beyond.

Until next year, Virginia Beach—we’ll be back soon! Are you interested in participating in an upcoming Climb for Courage? Apply on our website or email for more information!