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Help Alabama Power, Southern Company team grant children’s wishes in Trailblaze Challenge

A life-changing event 16 years ago spurred Steve Cabeza to begin reaching out to help others.

Now Cabeza is making dreams come true for children and their families by heading an Alabama Power and Southern Company team that has pledged to hike in the 2021 Make-A-Wish Trailblaze Challenge.

Alabama Power’s Steve Cabeza says a critical injury for his son 16 years ago motivates him to raise money for Make-a-Wish Alabama. His son fully recovered and Cabeza is leading a five-member team in this weekend’s Trailblaze Challenge on the Pinhoti Trail. (contributed)

In 2005, a car wreck left Cabeza’s teenage son, Justice, with a brain injury and multiple broken bones. Cabeza remembers his fears for his son, who was in a coma for 12 days before beginning the road to full recovery.

“It’s such a helpless feeling to see your child go through something like that. You would like to take his place, but you can’t,” said Cabeza, substation specialist, General Services Complex. “Knowing what I went through with my child, my heart just breaks for the parents of these critically ill children, and I want to do anything I can to support them.”

Cabeza had never heard of the Trailblaze Challenge, benefiting Make-A-Wish Alabama. But when he saw a billboard in January recruiting hikers for the grueling event, he quickly got on board and began putting together a team.

A one-day, 26.3-mile hike along the Pinhoti Trail in east Alabama and west Georgia, the event raises funds that will be used to grant the wishes of critically ill children statewide. In addition to the “main” events, the hikers are taking part in 12 weeks of training on Alabama and Tennessee trails.

Cabeza’s team includes Alabama Power Substation Services Supervisor Rich Schneider, his 16-year-old son, Joey Schneider, Southern Company Equipment Services Engineer Rod Sauls and Georgia Power Substation Support Supervisor Neil Hutchins.

Dubbed “Team Trips a Lot,” the group will tackle the trail April 30-May 2. To allow more hikers to participate, there will be another challenge May 14-16.

The team has pledged to raise $12,500, or $2,500 each.

“This year, Make-A-Wish Alabama will celebrate our fifth year of the Trailblaze Challenge program,” said Elizabeth Tucker, development manager, Make-A-Wish Alabama. “More than 500 people have taken this journey since 2017, and we are thrilled to have Steve and his team hiking with us this year. Trailblaze Challenge truly is a program unlike any other, and the resilience and passion our hikers exhibit are inspiring to witness.”

Make-A-Wish Alabama creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. Since the chapter was established in 2012, more than 1,000 wishes have been granted for children across all 67 counties in the state.

Tucker said she is proud that Alabama Power and Southern Company employees are part of making these wishes happen.

“Alabama Power and Southern Company are integral parts of our state in more ways than one, and we are so grateful for the support of its employees,” she said. “Although it’s carried out in different forms, Make-A-Wish Alabama and Alabama Power are united in a shared mission: serving this great state and its people.”

Hitting the trails

Schneider has been training hard for the event.

“I have always had a soft spot for children dealing with critical illness. I also enjoy hiking and the outdoors, so this seemed like a good fit for me,” said Schneider, who has been training on his treadmill at home during the week and hiking at Oak Mountain State Park on weekends. “If it allows children and families to have some relief in difficult times, it will make all the training worthwhile.”

Alabama Power’s Rich Schneider and his family enjoy hiking. Now Schneider and his 16-year-old son, Joey, are part of a five-member team set to hike 26.3 miles of the Pinhoti Trail to raise money for Make-a-Wish Alabama. (contributed)

Cabeza lives in Lineville, 30 minutes from the 335-mile trail. He has hiked almost every part of the Alabama portion of the Pinhoti. He has even traversed the difficult “Stairway to Heaven,” a stretch of the trail that features many tricky uphill switchbacks.

Cabeza, 58, is in top shape as a longtime bicyclist who takes part in the annual Tour de Beach and the Power Pedalers Dam Ride benefiting multiple sclerosis research. But he said hiking is nothing like riding a bike.

“The biggest challenges have been the toll it takes on your body and making time to fit the hikes into my schedule,” he said.

Looking ahead to the event May 1, Cabeza said the participants will begin before dawn and be challenged to complete the hike in 14 hours.

With the pandemic still underway, the hikers will be sent out at 5-minute intervals to ensure social distancing, Cabeza said.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to know that I’ve accomplished something that allows me to help somebody else. It brings me joy and fulfillment.”

As of April 26, Team Trips a Lot surpassed its goal, raising $14,675.

Cabeza urges everyone to join his team in supporting these families.

“Please donate; that’s what it’s all about,” Cabeza said. “Even the smallest donation is an opportunity for you to be a part of making a child’s wish come true.”

For more information or to donate, visit 2021 Trailblaze Challenge – Make-A-Wish Foundation. To support Team Trips a Lot, click on 2021 Trailblaze Challenge: Team Tripsalot – Make-A-Wish Foundation.