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National Honoree

Photo of National Honoree Riley Callen

Riley Callen

Pawlet, Vermont

Riley Callen, 14, of Pawlet, Vt., an eighth-grader at Dorset Elementary School, founded an annual “hike-a-thon” in the hills of Vermont that has raised more than $250,000 to help find a cure for brain tumors, like the ones that have affected her since she was 8 years old. It took two major surgeries to remove the first benign tumor in Riley’s brainstem, and another to extract a second tumor three years later. While recovering in the hospital, Riley told her mother she wanted to focus not on her own problems, but on how she could turn her experience into something positive. “I wanted to help find a cure, not just for myself, but for everyone out there like me,” she said. 

Because hiking is particularly popular in Vermont, Riley, along with her mother and a former babysitter who also had a brain tumor, decided to stage a hike-a-thon to raise money for tumor research. They spent the summer planning the event, asked relatives and friends to help, set up a website to publicize the fundraiser and sold raffle tickets for a “basket bonanza.” More than 500 people came to the first “Be Brave for Life” hike-a-thon, which raised over $100,000. The following year, a scavenger hunt, silent auction, and an everyday-heroes nomination initiative were added to the event, and $165,000 more was raised to support research programs at hospitals in Boston and Phoenix. “It makes me feel good to be a part of something that is bigger than just me,” said Riley.