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'Hiking for Healing' combines nature and laughter to support breast cancer fighters and survivors

The nonprofit first started in 2018. Breast cancer survivor Dolphin Riggs is passionate about the power of community and attitude during a diagnosis.

MCMINN COUNTY, Tenn. — Dolphin Riggs is a breast cancer survivor on a mission to empower and enlighten other women through nature and positivity.

On any given path in the mountains or neighborhood park, when the leaves start to turn, the laughter blooms if Riggs is involved.

It's in nature when Riggs is reminded life is like a trail.

"You never stop, you never quit when you want to quit, you keep on going step by step," Riggs said. "Just day by day, tomorrow is going to be different. Keep on going."

The 74-year-old spitfire is a hiker who has had her share of obstacles. Her latest one is a detached Achilles tendon from playing catcher on the softball diamond.

She had surgery and is now bound to a cast and knee scooter. It's her only way she can navigate outdoors right now.

"This is my choice," Riggs said. "My doctor knows know about it and I'm being extremely careful."

Her once smooth path was first interrupted when breast cancer popped up in 2017. She had surgery then and found her way back to the great outdoors not long after.

"I actually see my my journey with cancer as a positive experience," Riggs said.

It's something others would see as a bump blocking the path.

"They're usually just rocks," Riggs laughed. "Every bump in the road gets you that much closer, and you can learn from every bump you've been in."

She used her diagnosis as a chance to connect others.

She created a 501(c)(3) nonpofit for breast cancer fighters and survivors back in 2018, called "Hiking for Healing."

"I went out on the trail after a double mastectomy and realized the healing aspect, of which I've known the healing aspects of nature and laughter and just being outside, and wanted to bring that to some other people," Riggs said.

Her hiking groups, some she has dubbed "the dolphin pod," get together, giggle and listen.

"You have people that know exactly what you're going through and they're going through the same thing," 22-year breast cancer survivor Michele Buttell said.

From different walks of life, they are still pounding the same path.

"You may be in that difficult situation and not see beyond that, and they help pull you along, whether you want to or not," breast cancer survivor Lisa Long said.

The support doesn't stop when the trip ends either. There's a community online through Facebook, where women lift each other up at all hours of the day.

Any day I get to see Dolphin is a good day 🐬 I wanna be like her when I grow up: strong, centered and a spitfire! 😝 She...

Posted by Katie Inman on Thursday, October 14, 2021

"You've got to love yourself," Riggs said. "You've got to believe in yourself and just keep going. Don't let anything get in your way. Don't quit. Just keep going. Persevere."

Even when life puts those bumps along the way, the fighters find a way to forge their own trail.

"It's always exciting, there's nothing ever the same, but it's fun," Riggs said.

During the pandemic, Hiking for Healing also started doing "trail calls," where breast cancer fighters can video call in while the group is on a hike and experience the trail virtually.

If you would like to donate or get involved with Hiking for Healing, visit hikingforhealing.org.