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A challenge worth taking

Brain-injury fundraiser calls on a full-body commitment

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Rhonda Rickett only knew her future husband vaguely before his brain injury.

"I didn't like him," she says. "He was a little cocky."

This was the early 1980s, before Marty Rickett (pictured right) went riding, helmet-less, on a motorcycle with her friend's husband on Union Boulevard and, in Rhonda's words, "a little old lady took him out."

The crash launched him 35 feet, onto his head, and sent both men to the hospital. Rickett saw him there after she rushed over with her friend. They started dating months later and then, well, the rest is history.

Rickett's story the way she fell in love with Marty after a brain injury altered his personality, is a happy twist on the reality that couples more commonly face. More than a million Americans suffer TBIs each year, and many are forced to change their future plans or to cope with lifelong disabilities.

"I learned 90 percent of [serious] brain injuries end in divorce," Rickett says. "The wife almost always leaves a brain-injured husband."

Traumatic brain injuries affect more people each year than breast cancer, AIDS and other diseases, but federal spending for each TBI case is a fraction of what it is for these diseases.

Rickett, through the Brain Injury Association of Colorado, is trying to help counteract that deficiency. For the last 10 years, the 47-year-old has been in charge of the Pikes Peak Challenge, an annual fundraising hike in its 23rd year.

Money from the fundraiser buys helmets for children, supports educational programs to help reduce TBIs, and funds treatment and research programs aimed at improving care for a population of survivors that is growing as soldiers come home from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pikes Peak Challenge is a one-way ascent of Pikes Peak by way of Barr Trail, a climb of about 7,400 feet over a distance of nearly 13 miles. Last year, hikers raised $153,000 for the Brain Injury Association of Colorado and $10,000 for Memorial Health System's Think First program for kids, which aims to prevent brain and spinal cord injuries.

Rickett could handle a total of 450 participants in this year's climb, on Sept. 6; as of early this week, there were about 250 people committed.

To sign up, find out more information or to support a hiker participating in the climb, visit pikespeakchallenge.com. Go to "How You Can Help" and then "Make a Donation" to find a list of hikers and an online donation page.

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