Better World

Troy Galyon on Mount Katahdidn, the terminl point of the Appalachian trail

By Troy Galyon

We all want to do our part to make the world a better place, but more often than not, we struggle to find our specific area of talent to create change in the world and make even just our community better.

In 2016, during the fall semester of my senior year at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, my father came to me and shattered my belief and naivety that the world was simple, easy and everything I could want. He told me on a sunny October morning that he had cancer. As I sat motionless in my dad’s car, I watched him break down in tears. My body couldn’t move, but my mind raced with unending questions and comments about how this could happen to him, why it was affecting our family and what I could do to make it better.

After months of thinking, an idea that at first seemed like a fun graduation trip became my way of coping with my father’s diagnosis while also giving him hope and strength to continue his cancer journey. I would hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail (AT) in his honor and raise money for cancer research. When I told him my plan, he smiled and told me it was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him.

I simply replied, “Not yet, it isn’t.”

Having no backpacking experience, this was going to prove a monumental challenge for me. But I knew I had to do it when one afternoon I came home from class to my house in the Fort Sanders neighborhood and found a hiking backpack sitting in my driveway. I asked our neighbors if they accidentally left it or misplaced one, but nobody ever claimed it.

The day after graduation, I set off on the AT, and only 107 days later, I was able to complete the entire trail from Georgia to Maine and keep my dad motivated to continue his treatments and fight each day to stay strong for me like I was for him. After arriving back home to be caregiver for my dad, he told me I had given him the greatest gift anyone could ever give him. I was able to stay with him until he died in December 2017.

Troy Galyon with his wife Sarah on their wedding day in front of an outdoor fireplace
Sarah and Troy Galyon, Knoxville ’17. Troy is writing a book on his experience hiking the Appalachian Trail.

When I first learned of my dad’s diagnosis, my view of life and the world felt as if it was crumbling all around me, but I found a way to channel my fear and doubt into something constructive and hopeful, which allowed me to take a horrible situation and turn it into a means to help my dad, others struggling with similar life situations and myself. I did not set out on this journey to help make the world a better place but simply to encourage my father to stay determined in his cancer treatments and help myself cope with his diagnosis.

Yet this massive undertaking became a story for others to look to for hope and show that even a small act of kindness for another person is an act of compassion and does make this world we all share a better place.