“Go big or go home,” people will shout to encourage others to do things extravagantly, to strive for their fullest potential.
Champlain Valley Union High School student Charles Clark Oljetoh Schmitt went big – to the very last.
And then he went home.
On Sunday, March 31, Clark passed away after a two-year battle with colon cancer (see obituary, page 6). Shortly before he passed, Clark told his friend since kindergarten, Talia Loiter, that he wanted people to remember him by hiking up Camel’s Hump.
On Wednesday, 133 people did – students, family members, community members and others hiked up Vermont’s third highest mountain to commemorate their classmate’s life, said Clark’s father, Chuck Schmitt.
CVU principal Adam Bunting said the hike was “a non-school sanctioned event” and some school faculty did the hike “to have more safety.” Six faculty, including Bunting, and one school board member, Ray Mainer, met the students around 12:30 p.m. at the parking lot for the Burrows Trail and made the afternoon trek.
Clark battled colon cancer and was in remission this past summer. A member of the CVU Nordic ski team and the cross country team, he ran cross country this fall but the cancer came back at Thanksgiving.
Clark’s mother Kim Schmitt said that for some of the participants, including some students, the hike was beyond their comfort level “but in a good way.”
“Clark was very good at pushing people outside their comfort level, pushing people outside,” she said.
For other students who spend a lot of time outside and in the snow, the hike wasn’t as hard but it was a wonderful way to share the camaraderie that they had experienced with her son over the years.
Seeking out others on their bad days
His parents said that they believe Clark has been impacting people’s lives since he was young, but especially during the last several months.
Several people mentioned how Clark has always been an inspiration to people, challenging them to be the best that they can be.
“He’s always been good getting along with people and talking to people from very young to very old,” his mother said.
She added that her son was always very good at sports but that he was also very nice to other kids. He would get people together to do things – often outdoors.
“A lot of kids have said that he was the person who would come up to talk to them when they were having a bad day,” Kim said.
Clark was born on the Navajo Reservation where his father, Chuck, and mother were working in the Fort Defiance Indian Health Service Hospital. Chuck is a doctor of family medicine and Kim is a nurse practitioner.
From an early age, Clark loved pushing himself in the outdoors.
“We used to do hikes on the reservation,” Kim said, “and even when he was really little, he would lead those hikes and tell people about the features that they would encounter on the hike,”
Chuck added, “He would be like a little park ranger on the hike.”
Lots of last words
His parents said that one of the unique things about Clark was that toward the end, “He would call his friends in one by one. And not only to tell them about what he was going through. Clark really went out of the way to have last words with dozens and dozens of people who came to visit him.”
“This was not just younger people but older people too,” said Kim.
“Even some of the doctors,” Chuck said.
Eventually, Clark’s condition deteriorated until he had to take nourishment through a port instead of eating. As they were showing his mother how to handle the complicated procedure of setting up the bag for him to get nutrition at home, Kim asked how other people handled the procedure at home. The pediatric oncologist said that other people don’t deal with it at home, they stay in the hospital to die.
Even so, in those last weeks, Clark went home and a family friend took him and his best friend flying around Bolton Valley Ski Resort. Clark even flew the plane for 15 minutes or so. He went to a celebration of his life with a potluck dinner of over 300 people, where he received his high school diploma and learned that a ski run at Bolton Valley will be named after him.
“After that,” Kim said, “he went to Florida for a Make a Wish trip and went jet skiing, para sailing, catamaran sailing and to the zoo.”
Clark then came home and went to Montreal with his family to visit the art museum.
One of his last requests was to have his ashes scattered in more than 18 different places. Some of those places are secret and some are not. Some of those places are local and some require a good bit of travel. One of the locations is the Navajo Reservation where he was born.
Two of the spots are places his sister Izzy has never been – Hawaii and Alaska – “assuring that she’d get to see them on our dime,” said their mother with a laugh.