Daytonian of the Week: Climbing mountains to honor veterans

This week's Daytonian of the Week, Cheryl Dillin, will set off next month to climb the 10th most prominent peak in the world — Mt. Elbrus, to honor the nation's veterans, Purple Heart recipients and Gold Star families.

How does she train and what motivates her? She says it best in her own words.

Tell us a little about yourself — your background, your hobbies, what you do and why? 

I’m an adventurer at heart. I love deeply. I have great passion. My greatest strengths are also often my greatest weaknesses. I enjoy reading as well as a movie. A hike as well as a nap. I like to be with people as much as I like being alone. I am invigorated by new experiences and I thrive on strategic thinking. I’ve lived a very full life and I have so many exciting stories. What can I say, I’m a Pisces, a fish that is constantly swimming... in circles!

You are making a trip to Russia in July to climb Mt. Elbrus to benefit Blue Skies for The Good Guys and Gals Foundation. What does this foundation do and why is it important? 

Blue Skies for The Good Guys and Gals is a local nonprofit that has donated their time, passion, energy and resources to creating a healing experience for Purple Heart and Gold Star family veterans and give them a family and “brotherhood” of support. The key event is Warrior Weekend, the “weekend of a lifetime,” full of unforgettable experiences and acts of kindness.

Warrior Weekend To Remember (WWTR) recruits a new class of veterans, Purple Heart recipients and Gold Star families each year, and with that class comes three large objectives:

Connection: Connection to a familiar base of people who understand and relate to a soldier as well as connecting grieving families with warriors, warriors with warriors and gold star families with other families.

Healing: Healing begins through the bonds created by the exceptionally programmed and expertly paired activities at WWTR. Wounds, visible and not, begin to heal rapidly. Pulling people out of isolation and depression and giving them the opportunity to have amazing fun all while building a support network and a family that includes volunteers and sponsors begins the healing process.

Prevention: Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide in the United States. WWTR's connection and healing are the most effective form of prevention. Surrounding veterans with healing, love and compassion and truly honoring service and sacrifice with respect combines to save lives. ONE Family.

I will be conquering the tallest mountain in Europe and one of the Seven Summits — Mt. Elbrus, in their honor on Warrior weekend.

Mt. Elbrus is located in Caucasus Range in Russia a total elevation of 18,510’. Both experiences on that weekend will be unforgettable, meaningful, heartfelt and certainly difficult at times, with an unparalleled sense of gratitude and appreciation for others upon completion of the weekend for all involved.

I hope to raise over $18,510 for Blue Skies through my Summits For Soldiers efforts and continue to send veterans through the Warrior Weekend program so they can experience the wonderful Blue Skies family.

For more information: 

What inspired you to get involved with this organization and make this trip? 

Blue Skies is the best grassroots effort I’ve ever seen from a charity. Their mission is one of connection and healing for veterans. But it’s even more than that. For me, I have three reasons that Blue Skies is my dedicated charity and the reason I started my Summits For Soldiers program: 1. One Family. 2. Purple + Gold = Red, White and Blue. 3. Spencer Davis

1. The One Family concept is one that I live, but I never put a name to it until David Hart from Blue Skies started using it. Blue Skies leadership and vision is very inclusive of other organizations and charities, believing in the concept that we are all One Family in the healing and connection process.

This thought process is very similar to how I think about the community and the organizations within it — business or charity. When you’re looking for a way to work together and succeed together, there’s a bigger purpose. It’s a different way of looking at things, but it’s very healthy and very satisfying to be inclusive.

2. Warrior Weekend brings together Purple Hearts and Gold Star Families. I believe this is one of the most effective and brilliant aspects of Blue Skies. From what I have witnessed, the Purple Hearts provide a connection to the family members lost from the Gold Star Families. On the other hand, the Gold Star families, having lost so much, rarely miss the opportunity or miss a signal when healing is needed for the Purple Hearts. It’s a magical embrace of the two worlds and it works. There is such a strong connection, it’s simply brilliant and it’s working in a very strong and very positive way. This is why Purple + Gold = Red, White and Blue

3. A couple years ago, Rachel Prindle introduced me to Spencer Davis, a veteran who lives in Dayton with his family. She told me that we (Austin Landing) sponsored him for Warrior Weekend and she thought we should meet. Spencer and I spoke at an event for quite some time. After that we spent time together at Warrior Weekend, and after that, we kept in touch.

Spencer came to a meeting about Blue Skies at Austin Landing. He was supposed to be part of a presentation. Instead, he gave me all the inspiration I needed to support Blue Skies to an even greater extent than I had in the past. Not too far in to the meeting, Spencer looked us all right in the eye, and tenderly said, “As a civilian you may not ever understand why, but Warrior Weekend saved my life. You saved my life. Thank you for sponsoring me. I am who I am today because of you.”

There aren’t enough summits on earth if I could give that same experience to every veteran in need. Needless to say, there was hardly a dry eye in the room. I still can’t tell that story without holding back tears. But Spencer Davis — he’s the real reason I’m all in. When someone tells you that you saved their life. Well, that’s something even I don’t mind humble bragging about. I’m proud of that effort and I hope to duplicate it many times over.

How do you prepare for a climb like this? 

I can’t lie. Climbing a mountain is hard. The only thing more difficult might be training to climb a mountain in Ohio! I’m pretty fortunate, I have a coach at CrossFit SkyFall, Rob Kramer, and I do three workouts per week with him to prepare my muscles for the fatigue and the endurance needed for the trip. He’s a beast and he pushes me to make sure I will be ready. In between those trainings, I attend Cycle Bar at Austin Landing, specifically to isolate training on my legs for the uphill. Julie Given is my favorite instructor there, she really motivates me and always seems to say what I need to hear that day. Otherwise I try to get in a long hike here and there with a heavy pack, just to remind my body what it feels like. I will also take a trip to Colorado and climb a couple 14ers out there to prepare. Not a lot of mountains in Ohio, in fact the highest point in Ohio is just over 1500 vertical feet. I’m going up to 18,510’ so I really have some training to do!

How long have you been climbing? What got you started? 

I started hiking in the mountains with my husband 20 years ago. He took me to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for vacation and I fell in love with the mountains and hiking outdoors. A few years ago, I started a mentoring program and part of that program involved a “physical challenge,” something that needed to be hard enough that failure was a possible outcome, so that the success and the physical challenge was a true achievement. Our physical challenge was to climb the Grand Teton, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s a class 5 climbing mountain that requires rock climbing, some mountaineering and a lot of vertical hiking — up and down. After that adventure, I was hooked, I just kept climbing.

Is climbing more of a mental challenge or a physical challenge? Both? 

Physically, there are definitely limitations to a person’s abilities, but generally, if you’ve done your research and chosen a good guide and done some training, you’re likely to reach the top. In fact weather is the typical factor in not submitting, weather and not starting early enough.

Mentally, however, there are so many factors at play. The last time I climbed the Grand, I woke up and I just didn’t have any legs. I kept willing myself to find the power in my legs that I knew I had, but it just wasn’t there that day. It wasn’t until maybe an hour or so from the summit that I actually knew I was going to make it. I struggled through that day with just grit and determination, but not physical strength, and my body was just destroyed after.

That was indeed physical, but the mental challenge to keep going was much more difficult. The head games and the mental Jenga I play inside my own thoughts is the true key to success or failure — or my perception of either. I’m tough on myself and I do, at times, seek perfection. A losing battle for even the best, but again, it’s a mental game and there is much training in that respect, just as much as the physical. Climbing a difficult mountain is both a physical and a mental challenge. I will be ready for this one!!

When did you found Hardy Communications & Marketing? 

I started Hardy Communications in 1997 when I was in my early 20s. It was a crazy thing to do at the time, but I really didn’t have anything to lose. My rent was $350 a month, I owned a Saturn and had a cat. That was about it as far as responsibilities go. And, I was pretty good at marketing. I won a national award, was published and received a scholarship as a senior in High School and that gave me some excellent practical experience and a great head start on a marketing career. From there I worked hard to prove myself. About 10 years later, we were a very well-respected and successful advertising agency in the area. I will always be proud of that effort and proud of that young woman that I was who took a risk and had the confidence to make it work.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

My job today is much different than when I started the company. Today I have no staff and I’m generally a consultant, but I feel like I make so much more impact on my customers and my community in my current role than I did when I was running an agency with 20 employees.

My favorite thing about my work today is the people I work with. Not only my team at Austin Landing, but also the other marketing clients and staff that I mentor and the charities that we partner with.

In Dayton specifically, at Austin Landing, I work with a small, but incredibly dedicated team to create, what we believe, is one of the best entertainment and community programs in the region. Watching the team grow and watching the programs grow has been very rewarding and fulfilling for me. To date we’ve created programming that has raised over $600,000 directly for charities in and around our community. We’re so proud of what our little team has accomplished simply by having the passion and will to do it.

What's been your most recent professional challenge, and how did you push through the challenge? 

Not everyone believes in community programming and very few people have the depth of experience in branding efforts and public relations to truly grasp the long-term strategy of the program we created at Austin Landing. We get push back. Sometimes a lot of push back. We aren’t popular when we dump 70 tons of sand in the park... except for the kids. The kids love it. We definitely have some people to answer to when we get 10,000 people in the development for the tree lighting and we have a little traffic issue....OK, a big traffic issue. And when we push for marketing tools or efforts that are new or innovative, it can make people uncomfortable. But just like climbing a mountain, if you have a solid goal, a plan to achieve it and the will to make it happen, one foot in front of the other will get you there. We go above and beyond and work very hard for our development. We are exceptionally proud of what we do for our community, our neighbors, our tenants and our charity partners. We aren’t perfect, but we focus on our relationships and doing what’s good for the community, and that’s one thing that can overcome any challenge we face and in fact has proven time and time again that this community program is very special and very successful.

What's your guilty pleasure? 

I love college football. My guilty pleasure is spending the day watching all the Big 10 games on TV outside on our porch in a sweater with my husband and my dogs, snacking on something with buffalo sauce and drinking a cold beer while something is cooking on a smoker.

What superpower would you love to have? 

The gift of healing. We work with many different charity organizations and the one thing I would do with a super power is heal. So many good people afflicted with pain; it’s the worst part of what I do. If I could heal, I would. I guess that’s part of the reason we have so much passion for what we do specifically with our community events - all of us as a team, we hope it makes a difference to heal those people who need it.

What are your hopes for the community? 

I truly believe that the strength of the individual is emboldened by the strength of the community. And the strength of the community is only strong with the strength of the individual. The best thing we can do for each other as a community is support each other. Applaud great effort. Support great causes. Encourage great efforts. We find what we seek, so seek kindness, greatness and community. It’s there if you’re looking, and it most certainly exists in Dayton.

What inspires you about life in Dayton? 

Dayton is a wonderful place to live. The people here are real, they are hard working and they are very giving. The Midwest is tough to beat. We have a great entrepreneurial spirit and a hard-working labor force. The Air Force connection allows us to feel patriotism in a strong way on a regular basis and keep us feeling local while thinking national. Combine that with four seasons, the wonderful communities and organizations that call Dayton home and it’s a place to be proud of.

What would you do on a perfect date in Dayton? 

This could go one way or another. My husband and I would either take our dogs on a hike and have a picnic, or we would go to a favorite local restaurant, have a great meal and a cocktail and enjoy a movie after. Depending on the time of year and the weather, those are two of our favorite activities.

How do you hope friends describe you? 

I saw a shirt the other day and it said, “Train like a beast, celebrate like a celebrity.” I hope they see me as someone who will bring out the beast of passion and resilience and pure grit when it’s most needed, but also someone who lives life to the fullest and knows how to appreciate today. I’d like them to say I’m an inspiration - someone who makes them believe they can do anything because believing in people is also a super power, and that’s one we can all have.

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