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San Luis Obispo kidney donor prepares to hike Mount Kilimanjaro

Posted at 2:29 PM, Feb 21, 2022

March 10th marks World Kidney Day and in its honor, 22 kidney donors from across the country will be hiking the world’s tallest freestanding mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro.

For the last four months, San Luis Obispo resident Sarah Hawkins has been lacing up her shoes, grabbing her hiking sticks, and heading up a local trail.

For Hawkins, embarking on this journey is part of a bigger story. Four years ago, she became a kidney donor to her former classmate’s father.

“I saw the post while I was laying in bed one lazy Sunday morning and I rolled over in bed and showed it to my husband and I said ‘can I do this?’ and he said, ‘what do you mean, do you know people that work at a kidney transplant center?’ I said 'no, can I give him my kidney?'" Hawkins explained.

After a 10-month donation process, Hawkins began tagging herself on social media as a kidney donor triathlete. That’s how she found the Kidney Donor Athletes organization.

“What if we send a bunch of kidney donors to climb a big, tall mountain to spread the word about living kidney donations?" Hawkins said.

That’s exactly what she and 21 other kidney donors are going to do. Hawkins started training back in November of 2021, working out five days a week to now six days a week. That includes five to 12 hours of hiking on the weekend.

Hawkins mirrors the altitude she is going to experience climbing the mountain by adding 15 pounds of birdseed, eight pounds of water, and sometimes a dumbbell, into her backpack.

“She has been dedicated to helping people for a long time and I think Kidney Donor Athletes and this kidney donating process has been just the most recent version of that," said Ben Hawkins, Sarah's husband.

Although Ben is not a kidney donor himself, he has been training alongside Sarah and will be a part of the summit.

“If there’s one message we would like to get out there, that Sarah would like to get out there, is that you can do this. Anybody can do this," Ben said.

Sarah Hawkins says the mission of the Kidney Donor Athletes organization is to show the community the possibilities of living organ donations and to encourage others to do the same act of kindness she did four years ago.

“I think a lot of the story might happen after we come back, when we are successful, and we can show the world what we have done," Sarah said.

The 22 kidney donor athletes are from different parts of the United States and Canada. The hikers are set to leave the United States on February 28th for Tanzania.