OSWEGO – Kristine Gillingham owns Joslin Farms and Bakery in Oswego. “It is my busy season for Italian cookies and goat milk lotion,” she said.
However, in the back of her mind, she’s making big plans for the coming year.
“My story is long. It started about seven years ago. I was never handed the best of genes. I come from a family of diabetics with high blood pressure and heart disease. My mother was a double amputee,” she told Oswego County Today.
She grew up in Oswego, attended Oswego schools and graduated in 1996 from Oswego High School.
“I have always had a dream of walking across the United States, from Oswego to Washington DC and then on to Crater Lake in Oregon. I have always dreamed of going to Crater Lake. To me it’s serenity; the most beautiful place,” she said.
But it’s going to be a challenge. For the last seven years, she has been in and out of hospitals, urgent cares, emergency rooms and doctors’ offices almost weekly. All doctors, up until October 2015, told her that she had a cardiac issue.
“I do,” she admitted. “But in October 2015, an ER doctor told me I wasn’t having a stroke, as the other doctors thought. I was having seizures and a lot of them daily – upwards of 30 a day.”
She told herself, “If I could get my health controlled, I would live my dream and walk across the United States.”
After literally hundreds of appointments, she’s still not controlled with her seizures, “but close.”
“I take an epilepsy medicine, Kepra, 750 mg, four times a day plus my other meds daily. Kepra is very strong. I take an extremely high dose. I’ve had doctors tell me it’s the worst to be on,” she said. “I walk on average of 15 miles a day. Double on training days. In the last year, I have woken up in ditches and on the side of the road. Yet I still continue training. I am a very independent person. This walk is so big for me.”
Normally, she walks by herself, not many people will walk the distances she does, she explained.
“I some times average 25 to 30 miles a day. I am usually gone about six to seven hours a day. I also walk in all weather. There are no excuses with my training. I am faithful,” she said. “I do have a gym membership. But, due to not being able to drive, I can’t get there.”
This walk will be a risk, anything medically could happen, she admits.
“I will have a 90-day supply of my meds with me. My son will be sending my meds and food when I need to be replenished. I will also have a satellite phone with me, plus my cell phone,” she said. “I have specific maps. I have a location marked where the closest hospitals are. I will check in with my son twice daily.”
She will dedicate her transcontinental trek to Camp EARG (www.epiny.org). The camp is a wonderful place for children with epilepsy to camp, make friends and be free of judgment in a safe place, she explained.
The camp has a 24-hour medical facility so children can have their meds. There is horseback riding, zip lines, crafts, camping, good food and more.
The cost of camp for one week is $750 per child. Gillingham would like to raise $8,000 to send 10 Oswego County children to Camp EARG.
This price includes a full 24-hour medical staff; the kids are watched closely and are safe, she added.
“I cannot imagine being a child and dealing with what I have,” she said. “I’ve lost jobs, my license, friends, dignity and more.”
When she returns from Oregon in October 2018, she’ll only be home for four months before she plans to hit the road again.
“I leave for Georgia on February 13, 2019, to start the Appalachian Trail South to North; ending in Maine,” she said. “I will be raising money again to send 10 Oswego County children with epilepsy to Camp EARG.”
People have told her the cross-country trek can not be done. But she is still planning to leave April 6, 2018, from City Hall in Oswego.
“I will return in six months. This walk is real. To date, I have raised $775. I am doing my best to explain to everyone what epilepsy is and how it is invisible, like heart disease,” she said.
She is fully funding the venture and taking six months away from her business, Joslin Farms and Bakery, to do marathon walk.
“I have a Go Fund Me page. It is Freedom Walk 2018 by Joslin Farms. All donations are going straight to Epilepsy-Pralid before I leave in April,” she said. “I can also be contacted and my progress tracked on Facebook at Joslin Farms and Instagram at Joslinfarms.”
The Pralid is a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities become functioning, stable housing, cooking, education, med treatment, she explained, adding that it’s like ARISE here in Oswego County.
The Epilepsy-Pralid came together a few years ago as one so that more of a population in Syracuse and Rochester areas could be helped.
Her son will be watching her business while she is gone.
“He is my biggest supporter,” she said. “I have had local doctors tell me I would never be fit to do this trek and yet I push myself and so does my son. This is my story. My journey is just beginning.”