Teri Swezey set out on a cross-country journey this month with her mother in mind.
Swezey, who normally resides in Carrboro, began walking on April 1 from Wrightsville Beach to raise money and awareness for the elderly and their caregivers.
She will end her 3,039 mile walk in Cambria, Calif., in about six to seven months.
Swezey helped create the organization Seniors Obtaining Assistance and Resources Inc. (SOAR), because her late mother developed mixed vascular dementia — a disease caused by problems with the blood supply to the brain, and the second most common form of dementia.
Swezey, a 57-year-old public health researcher, said caring for her mother was transformative.
“I became my mother’s mother,” she said. “Because of dementia, it was difficult for her to lose her independence.”
She said the experience made her appreciate the importance of quality of life and relationships with others.
“While we had our battles, we also had the sweetest moments,” she said.
She said her mother’s spirit motivated her to begin her walk.
“She was an amazing athlete and strong in all aspects,” she said.
Swezey said she tries to walk 15 miles a day, which takes about seven hours. Her partner, Robert Hoggard, follows behind her with a trailer.
She said they sleep in RV campgrounds, hotels or state parks, and she eats food that is stored in the trailer in order to keep costs down.
“I eat turkey jerky on the road,” she said.
Swezey said she has talked with people about her organization along the way, and this effort has paid off.
She has raised $3,500 of her $180,000 goal, and the money raised will go toward prescriptions, Meals on Wheels and various elderly caregiving programs.
Swezey is currently in South Carolina, making her way to Columbia.
“I’m not burnt out at all,” she said. “I find walking to be very relaxing. It gives me lots of time to think.”
Many businesses in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, including Farrell’s Self Storage and Great Outdoor Provision Company, have donated to Swezey’s organization.
Jim Moore, manager of Farrell’s Self Storage, said his own experience as a caregiver has given him a connection to Swezey’s mission.
“She has a desire to bring forth what’s important to her,” he said. “I give her credit. I don’t think it was easy to gain support.”
Ann Stuntz, assistant manager of the Great Outdoor Provision Co. store in Chapel Hill, said the company donated products such as reflective gear, rain gear and socks for Swezey’s trip.
“We really believe in what she’s doing,” Stuntz said.
“I hope it will have a tremendous impact. It will bring awareness to a group of people in the margins.”
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