Hello, my name is Eddie Perez and I am a Junior Counselor here at Camp Chosatonga from Memphis, Tennessee. For the last seven years, I have been blessed to call this community rooted deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains my home. Throughout these last few months, a majority of my time has been put into a project that is extremely close to my heart.
In mid-August of 2022, I traveled to Snowbasin, Utah where I hiked up a 2.3-mile ski slope and then rode the gondola down. I did this 13 times in 36 hours, resulting in 29,029ft of gained elevation— the equivalent to Mount Everest.
However, the completion of the physical challenge was not my final goal. My mission is to raise money for the Memphis-based non-profit Operation Red Shoes, which was created in honor of the late St. Jude patient Luis Aguilar. Operation Red Shoes is dedicated to helping the kids and families at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital who are not local to the Memphis area.
In 2011, Luis Aguilar moved to Memphis from Honduras after being diagnosed with Osteosarcoma to receive treatment. McKendree Walker, a close family friend, was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer around the same time. While at St. Jude, Luis and McKendree fell in love and used the light that was their relationship to help fellow patients also undergoing treatment. They spread joy around the hospital through music and laughter and became an inspiration for many people — patients and non-patients alike. Luis became known throughout the halls of St. Jude for his vibrant red shoes, which were indicative of his bold personality, commitment to living life fully, and ability to address the challenges before him.
I was blessed to get to know Luis before he passed away in 2015; I was just 11. Although our encounters were brief, Luis demonstrated how to keep a smile no matter the circumstances. He taught me how to put one red shoe in front of the other despite the obstacles ahead.
About a month ago, Operation Red Shoes organized an event with Mia and Isa, two little girls from Honduras. Here, these beneficiaries of ORS shaved my head completely. Being bald, I have been able to experience one of the smallest worries that patients go through. Stares in public, constant questions, and personal reflection have brought me to become extremely appreciative of my health and helped me better walk in these patients’ red shoes.
Each year at camp presents new challenges for me. These demanding moments can come in the form of homesickness, long days hiking the mountainous Appalachian Trail, or delegating between campers who are disagreeing. Knowing that there is no way around these difficulties, Chosatonga has taught me that facing obstacles head-on and with confidence is how they can be overcome. This does not mean that these weights are lifted immediately. Enduring and suffering are part of the deal as well. Finding comfort in these uncomfortable moments is how I define growth. Oftentimes these moments are not found in plush life back home, but in the trials and tribulations at camp.
Every year at the end of camp we are told to bring a piece of camp back home: for so long I did not think that it was possible. An impromptu decision to sign up for a challenge so outrageously out of my comfort zone proved me wrong. I truly believe without the teachings of a community bound by difficulty and struggle, I would not be where I am today. The purpose of this challenge is not only to empty my tank and push myself further than I have before but to also show solidarity with those at St. Jude who are climbing up their own personal Everest as they battle to overcome cancer.
My goal is not attainable without your kindness. My role in this fundraiser is to connect your generosity with the needs of these St. Jude families. While treatment is free, your donations will be used for various essentials, such as transportation and other daily expenses that seem to go unnoticed at times. They will allow families to remain together during their stay at St. Jude. Please consider donating and feel free to reach out with any questions. Follow me on Instagram to stay updated.