When he was a teenager, Troy Hodge’s father gave him a piece of advice he’s never forgotten.
“You’ve got a choice every day,” Hodge said, quoting his dad. “You can be happy or sad. It is up to you.”
Hodge chooses happy.
No matter what.
Even when he learned he had leukemia, Hodge refused to abandon his mantra, “Show up. Do the work. Be positive.” It’s also the slogan at South Hill’s Stahl Junior High, where Hodge is the principal.
Hodge, 48, needed about a month to process the diagnosis of a disease that means he could someday need a bone marrow transplant.
Things don’t always go your way, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up. You keep trying. You figure out ways. You make the best of whatever you have going.
Troy Hodge, principal
Now, as he likes to say, he’s living his life in fast forward.
That means taking on challenges he’s always wanted to tackle. Like climbing Mount Rainier.
As luck would have it, Stahl’s digital education teacher is one of the South Sound’s most accomplished mountaineers.
The teacher, Jason Edwards, guides for International Mountain Guides. He’s climbed Rainier 331 times. Only five people have more summits.
Edwards offered to climb with his friend and boss. Hodge’s brother-in-law, Ryan Post, and one of Edwards’ regular climbing partners, Phil Nicoletti, joined them for the trip.
They took their first crack at the 14,411-foot mountain in 2015. Hodge was unable to sleep for two days before the summit push. Drained of energy, he arrived at Ingraham Flats (about 11,100 feet), knowing it would be unsafe to keep going.
“The wind hit me, and it was like Mike Tyson punched me in the face,” Hodge said. “My knees buckled.”
Hodge’s youngest daughter taped a quote to his phone the morning he left to climb Rainier. It said, “You don’t have to be the best, you just have to work harder than everybody else.”
The disappointment didn’t dampen his positivity.
“A lot of the things I’ve done in my life I’ve had to do twice,” Hodge said. “I have a long list. Marathon. Triathlon. The second time you have knowledge that helps you be successful.”
So, long before sunrise on Aug. 11, Hodge, Edwards, Nicoletti and Post left Camp Muir to try again. A few hours later, Hodge was scrawling in the summit register, “Troy Hodge, first time.”
“Troy is an eternal optimist and loves to bring joy and achievement to other people's lives through his efforts at school,” Edwards said. “I felt honored to help him reach one of his bucket list goals, which I know meant so much to him.
“By reaching the summit of Mount Rainier, the experience will undoubtedly provide a basis of discussion with the young learners in our school. They will all benefit from each step that he took to reach the summit and to return safely to Paradise.”
Sitting on a bench in the Paradise parking lot examining an array of impressive blisters, Hodge fielded a few questions about the experience.
Q: Why was it important to do this?
A: Other than getting diagnosed with something, you want to see if you still can. Am I sick or am I not sick?
But the other thing is, my girls (Hodge has two teenage daughters) live in Washington, and if things don’t go the way you’d hope that they would, I thought it would be a pretty cool way for them to remember me. They could think of me when they see the mountain.
And being the principal, I want to share with kids that bad stuff happens sometimes. Things don’t always go your way, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up. You keep trying. You figure out ways. You make the best of whatever you have going.
Q: When you are out here doing something like this, are you able to forget about your circumstances?
A: Some of the side effects when you have bad blood is it affects your breathing. So when I’m sucking gas and everybody else is fine, I might think “stinking leukemia.” But maybe I didn’t train as hard as they did. Every once in a while it pops in your mind, but I’m not going to let it stop me.
Q: What did you learn from the first attempt that helped this time?
A: My goal this time was just to keep putting one step in front of the other. … I trained more this time. My nutrition was better. I stayed at home the night before instead of the lodge. It’s one of those things that until you actually do it, you don’t have a good idea of what it really entails.
Q: Did you feel good the whole way?
A: Other than just being tired, I felt pretty decent. Coming back to Muir, I was done. I wanted to stay the night up there, but Jason wouldn’t let me. So here we are.
Q: Do the kids at school know you are doing this?
A: They knew last year, because my brother-in-law brought a school flag. We had to show it at Ingraham Flats. There is a picture of that flag around the school.
Q: Did you bring the flag this time?
A: We didn’t. Actually, I think he (Post, a former a WSU baseball player) brought a Coug flag, but I don’t think he pulled it out.
Q: Do you know how long until you might need a bone marrow transplant?
A: No. With leukemia your bone marrow produces bad blood, and eventually you have more bad blood than good blood. And that’s when you need a bone marrow transplant. There is nothing you can do until that time, so for me it’s just kind of keep on living.
I decided I was going to live life a little more fast forward. The first guy who gave me the diagnosis said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be around in five or six years.” What?
Since then, I tell my wife, I don’t want to end up in bed somewhere, the unthinkable situation, and not have done some of this stuff. And if I do have a bone marrow match and that works and everything is good, I’m not going to be like, I did too much stuff. I had too much fun.
Q: How do you stay so positive?
A: Nobody is promised tomorrow. Yeah, I have a diagnosis that might not have a happy ending, but nobody is promised anything. Kids come to school, and they need to see a positive role model. And at home too.
Q: Anything else that’s important to say?
A: I’m a simple man. You know what I want to say: Show up, do the work and stay positive.
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