Long march in honor of loved one (7/16/09)

Former Williston resident hikes in memory of girlfriend

July 16, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Former Williston resident Josh Newton finds he’s at his happiest and most peaceful when hiking and climbing in the outdoors. That’s why the next several months will be extremely important to him and to the memory of his longtime girlfriend, who recently passed away from leukemia.


    Courtesy photo
Former Williston resident Josh Newton (left) spends time with his longtime girlfriend, Erica Murray. Murray passed away from leukemia last year, and this week Newton embarked on a hike of Vermont’s Long Trail with the intention of raising money and awareness for bone marrow transplants.

In an effort to raise money and awareness about the deadly disease, Newton, a graduate of Williston Central and Champlain Valley Union High schools, is embarking on a challenge that spans three continents. This past Sunday, he started his adventure by heading out onto Vermont’s Long Trail. He plans to follow up the hike through the Green Mountains with climbs in Africa and South America.

Newton said the trips came out of a necessity to do something after his longtime girlfriend, Erica Murray, succumbed late last year to leukemia after a long battle with the cancer.

“I couldn’t just sit around,” said Newton, who is currently studying for his doctorate at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Murray’s death changed Newton’s life, and he said he felt he needed to give back and honor her memory in the best way he could think of.

“Erica took advantage of every minute she had, literally, and I wanted to remember that,” Newton told the Observer last week before leaving for the Long Trail.

Newton decided to raise money for the Asian American Donor Program, or AADP, which looks to register people of Asian descent and mixed races onto bone marrow transplant lists. The transplants can be a necessity for patients with leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow.

Murray was of European and Chinese descent, which meant finding a suitable bone marrow match proved difficult. She eventually found one in 2008, but the match proved to be unsuitable after several months. Murray passed away in December.

Newton said the AADP is a little known organization that is trying to save lives every day, hence his decision to raise money. He said he also plans to raise awareness of the importance of bone marrow list registration and plans to work with Burlington- and Boston-area aid organizations with community service.

“There’s just not enough people on the match list,” Newton said.

Remembering Erica

Newton met Murray while in graduate school at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Murray had already been diagnosed with leukemia, but she was coping well and continuing her education, Newton said.

Much of their time together was spent in a long-distance relationship — Murray in treatment with her family in California and Newton in Paris, France working on a program with the United Nations. But Newton said they made the most of their limited time together.

“She was just so alive,” Newton said. “If she was talking to you, she was the only person in your world for that second.”

Newton said Murray was an avid traveler, before and during her illness. Her love of the world inspired Newton to attempt a truly global challenge. An avid outdoorsman and mountain climber, Newton knew he had to tackle the Long Trail, something he had never hiked in its entirety.

Besides bringing the necessary supplies for the 272-mile north-to-south hiking route, Newton is also bringing electronic equipment. He’ll be able to map his route for friends and family via GPS and update his blog almost daily. His progress can be followed on his tribute Web site to Murray, www.ericatribute.com.

Newton plans to finish in three or four weeks and is aiming for an average of 13 miles a day. With all the wet weather plaguing Vermont this summer, Newton said he’s ready for the inevitable mud.

“I’m sure my shoes will weigh a couple extra pounds (with mud) when this is over,” he said.

In August, Newton will fly to Africa and attempt to climb the continent’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. He expects to complete the 19,340-foot peak in eight or nine days.

And this fall, in the midst of studying for his doctorate in international studies, Newton will head to South America and attempt to climb the Western Hemisphere’s highest mountain, the 22,841-foot Aconcagua in Argentina. Newton has previously tackled this peak twice and failed both times. He’s hoping the third time’s a charm.

Newton said the trips are being funded out of his own pocket. Any money he raises will be directly donated to the AADP and other bone marrow organizations.

Newton hopes the hikes and climbs prove healing for him after the difficulty of the past year. He hopes Murray’s story and his tribute will inspire others to register on bone marrow transplant lists.

“When I’m outside, I feel alive and happy,” Newton said.

And he knows Murray would want that for him most of all.

To make a donation in Erica Murray’s memory, visit www.ericatribute.com to donate via credit card or PayPal. Checks can also be made out to: Asian American Donor Program Tribute to Erica Murray, attn: James de Lara, 2169 Harbor Bay Parkway, Alameda, Calif., 94502.