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Man pays it forward by participating in 28-mile hike to benefit Make-A-Wish

Two Asheville locals, along with dozens of others here in the mountains, are hiking 28 miles in one day to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It's called the Trailblaze Challenge, and this week's Carolina Moment introduces a man and woman who are participating. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

Two Asheville, North Carolina residents, along with dozens of others here in the mountains, are hiking 28 miles in one day to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

It's called the Trailblaze Challenge, and this week's Carolina Moment introduces a man who's participating despite being diagnosed with COPD as a kid.

"I came to Asheville for the mountains, actually," Branden Donahue told News 13. "I came down on vacation in August to visit the area, went downtown and did a couple of hikes. And this place -- ugh, I just had to move here."

But when Branden arrived, he needed to make his own path, and finding a reason to stay required going a distance.

"About a month after I moved here, I had no money, and I had absolutely no clue why I was here besides the mountains. The bigger picture of why I was here, you know," Branden recalled. "And I was getting gassed, and I saw a billboard, and it said 'Trailblaze Challenge,' and I saw on the corner it said 'Make-A-Wish Foundation.'"

He used his footprints to make an imprint. People sponsored him to hike 28 miles in one day. He stepped up for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and upped his friend count at the same time.

"Her and I, the first day, the first group hike we did, we just started talking and got along really well," Branden said of Sara Basse.

Sara learned the only way to walk in Branden's shoes was walking with him.

"It almost became more of a personal thing. I was like, 'Yeah, this is a lot closer to me now.' Like, we need to really do this," Sara said.

Branden said COPD was a lot to grow up with.

"You get made fun of a lot," Branden said. "I've grown an anxiety to doing my inhaler in front of people because I guess all throughout high school people make fun of it. I don't know why its funny because you simply can't breathe."

What makes the Trailblaze Challenge and the Make-A-Wish Foundation so special is Branden's personal experience with he organization.

"I was with the nurse, actually having an asthma attack. I was in there on a breathing treatment, and she called me and I just couldn't believe it, I just freaked out."

Branden was 12 when he received his wish: An RV for his family to travel in. Make-A-Wish lifted him and his family when they needed it most.

"My mom at the time was really sick. My mom has epilepsy, so when she got that, it was good for me and her because she didn't know how much she had time left," Branden recalled. "She was super sick at the time and she didn't have surgery yet, so it was good for both of us."

Branden said he's used to his COPD at this point, but his mom literally can't believe how far he's gone.

"When she hears that I'm out here in the mountains and I'm hiking, and I'm out doing 12-mile hikes, she's like, 'Wow.' Because the kid she knew years ago would be in the hospital. That just wouldn't happen," he said.

If somebody tells Branden he can't do something, he'll put his foot down. But now he wants to put roots down.

"We both are kind of facing the same struggle as far as fundraising because we don't have the connections, simply don't know anybody," Branden said. "We're really ready to buckle down and start talking to businesses and get out there and just try and talk to everyone and see what we can do to raise money."

You can help by donating to Branden's or Sara's donation page.

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