First came the hike across Patagonia and its steep mountains, glaciers and unpredictable weather.
Then came the six-day trek on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. That meant grizzly bear encounters, demanding peaks and valleys — and more glaciers.
Next up for native Long Islander Michael Mankowich is an ambitious hike that will explore the bubbling volcanoes of Guatemala. Three of them.
The 62-year-old Commack North High School graduate started taking these journeys of a lifetime after he was diagnosed in 2017 with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer.
Traveling in groups, with individuals all impacted in some way by multiple myeloma, Mankowich has helped heighten awareness of the disease, while raising about $60,000 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). The Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma series of trips is a joint initiative between Cure Today and MMRF.
“The goal behind all of this is to raise awareness of the MMRF and its efforts to defeat Multiple Myeloma,” says Mankowich, who wrestled in high school and while in college at Cornell, and was inducted into the New York State Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“While the cancer is incurable, it is treatable, and many of the treatments available today are attributable to the work of the MMRF,” he added.
In 2019, Mankowich was accompanied by his wife Kathleen on the hike in South America’s Patagonia region. Tagging along on the 2024 adventure in Guatemala will be his adult daughter Mary. They have set a goal to raise a combined $50,000.
“I can’t imagine a more special opportunity to further bond with one’s daughter,” Mankowich, who lives in Nutley, New Jersey, posted on his donation site. “When I got word of our selection, it brought tears to my eyes.
Sponsors are covering the cost of the trip, Mankowich noted, before adding that any additional money he raises will go directly toward research and development to find new and improve upon existing treatments for multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that forms in plasma cells and leads to the overproduction of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow.
The five-year relative survival rate for multiple myeloma is around 54%, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society. Mankowich says the form he suffers from is not aggressive, and that his individual markers make for a more positive long-term prognosis.
“I’m in for six (years) and anticipate being around for a long time,” he says.
In the year prior to his diagnosis, Mankowich had committed to getting in top physical shape.
“After years of losing weight for wrestling, my body had struck back in an almost violent manner, by packing on an additional 40 unnecessary, unwanted and unsightly pounds,” he explains in his bio page. “After attending close to a year of local ‘boot camp’ classes at 5:30 a.m. each morning, I felt as though I was almost where I needed to be.”
Mankowich said he had dropped close to 30 pounds and felt healthy until he began experiencing persistent back pain. Eventually, he said, a spinal cord specialist, aided by an MRI scan, determined he was suffering from multiple myeloma.
Hard training ahead
Because the Guatemala trip will involve extreme elevations, he and his daughter will be training hard to get ready. On his biography page of Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma website, Mankowich explains that he approaches the challenging trips the same way he prepared for his wrestling matches.
“As a former collegiate wrestler, I know I will prevail, as I have in the past,” he said. “As for my daughter, she’s no concern. She’s tougher than her dad!”
The awe-inspiring Alaska hike began in Homer, Alaska, a place known as “The End of the Road,” and took the participants across a challenging terrain that included temperate rain forests and glaciers that plunge down mountainsides.
Below is a film produced by Cure Today documenting the 2021 trip in Alaska.
In Patagonia, Mankowich and 12 fellow hikers trekked through Chalten, experiencing a range of high peaks dominated by Monte Fitz Roy, an 11,020-foot tower with a sheer face of more than 6,000 feet. They reached Lago San Martin, where they continued in daily treks, exploring a 10-mile long peninsula, climbing to a condor rookery, and reaching remote Andean lakes.
The news report below previews Mankowich and his wife’s hike in Patagonia.
Top photo: YouTube still.