A sense of accomplishment washed over Ron Farb, 76, and his Russian climbing partner as they took in the view from the top of Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. About 2670 miles east rested the most formidable peak and Farb’s next conquest.
“Ron, I think you’re ready for Everest,” his companion said.
In 2005, Farb climbed Mount Everest, the tallest of the Seven Summits. The 67-day-long, 29,028-foot hike was mentally and physically grueling, but Farb tackled the climb for a cause greater than himself — cancer.
In reaching the heights that so few do, Farb’s Everest excursion raised just under $200,000. Every dollar went toward The Climb for Cancer Foundation, the organization he and his wife, Dianne Farb, created. All money raised is donated to programs that support patients and families undergoing cancer treatments at UF Health Shands Hospital.
Now, with five of the world’s highest summits under his belt, Farb finds himself at Gainesville’s own “Mt. Everest”: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
On Saturday, Farb partnered with members of UF’s Alpha Epsilon Delta pre-health honor society to raise more than $12,000 for their first inaugural Gator Mountain Challenge, a relay race up and down the 90 rows of the stadium. It was the most money AED has ever raised with a single event.
The idea for the Gator Mountain Challenge came to Farb on one of his regular runs up the stadium stairs.
Students formed fundraising groups that were required to raise at least $200 with all proceeds benefiting the foundation, Dianne, 59, said. Not a single group fell short of this task.
Every dollar raised was donated to programs that support patients and families undergoing cancer treatments at Shands, she said. It goes toward direct patient support such as Uber gift cards to offset travel expenses to Shands and toys and books for children in the hospital.
Last Fall, the honor society fundraised $12,000 for the whole semester, said Alexis Ernst, a 22-year-old biology senior and AED’s director. This event raised almost as much as the society did over four months.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Madison Weech, a 20-year-old biology and Spanish junior and another AED director, said. “We’re over the moon, on cloud nine.”
The honor society has a long-standing relationship with The Climb For Cancer Foundation, Weech said. The student organization collaborates with them every Spring as a part of their philanthropy.
The Gator Mountain Challenge was a long time coming, said Lauren Herwitz, AED’s The Climb For Cancer committee chair. Plans for the stadium relay began a year ago.
Twenty-two fundraising teams of four runners competed; there was no limit to the number of people helping the team fundraise, Dianne said.
The group wants more teams to sign up for the race and to involve more of the Gainesville community next year, the 21-year-old health science and theater senior said.
The Climb For Cancer Foundation orchestrates climbs and adventure trips to fundraise, Herwitz said. But it’s often difficult for AED’s members to go because the trips can be expensive, far away and a large commitment for students.
“Climbing the stadium is just allowing us to simulate this vehicle of fundraising but in our own backyard in Gainesville,” she said.
The honor society members were excited about the event and organized it almost completely independently, Dianne said.
The Climb For Cancer Foundation also organizes a run and a sports camp for children with cancer. The foundation is allowed access to some of UF’s practice complexes for several hours, and 150 UF athletes, cheerleaders and the Dazzlers participate in activities with the kids.
Some of Dianne’s fondest memories from the organization were during the sports camps.
“One boy who came in October 2019 was almost blind from his cancer, but he was so positive,” she said, holding back tears. “And even though he was blind and couldn’t participate in all the sports activities, at the end of the camp he came up to Ron and said ‘Can I give you a hug?’ and he hugged Ron around the waist and said, ‘This is the best day of my life.’”
Interactions with patients and having control over where the funds go is why the couple started the foundation in 2003, Dianne said.
The couple started the foundation in 2003, motivated by interactions with patients, Dianne said. They also enjoyed the opportunity to control the allocation of funds and make sure they were used appropriately.
About 30 years ago, one of Ron Farb’s friends started a camp for kids with cancer in Georgia and asked him to volunteer for a week.
“After a week with these children, my life was changed forever,” Farb said.
He began writing checks and volunteering each year, but he wanted to do more. After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, he attempted to climb the Seven Summits in order to raise funds for the organization.
With the help of his son, a graphic designer, they sent out brochures and raised $25,000 before his hike to the top of Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America.
The next year he climbed Mount Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, and raised the same amount. The money raised for both of those climbs was donated to the American Cancer Society.
After these two climbs, The Climb For Cancer Foundation was established.
Farb’s dedication to support the fight against cancer also stems from personal experience. He lost his sister in 2009 to breast cancer.
After she passed, he took her ashes to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro where the two had climbed together just a year before her death.
“Cancer is like the modern day plague,” he said. “If you ask the 90 some odd thousand people in the Swamp on game day ‘Raise your hand if you haven’t been touched by cancer,’ who could raise their hand? Nobody.”
With his adventure-seeking personality and desire to see cancer meet its end, Farb continues to climb the mountains, and stairs, in this world in order to help those climbing their personal mountains in life.
Contact Elena Barrera at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @elenabarreraaa.
Elena is a second-year journalism major with a minor in health sciences. She is currently the University Administration reporter for The Alligator. When she is not writing, Elena loves to work out, go to the beach and spend time with her friends and family.