Olin MBA student aims to walk his way into history books

McLaughlin to attempt back-to-back hikes of Appalachia, Ozark trails for charities here and in Africa

Mike McLaughlin has had a difficult life.

The MBA student at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis was emotionally and physically abused as a child at the hands of his mother and stepfather — a tragedy in its own right, but one which he says helped prepare him for his next big challenge.

http://youtu.be/NRdnzS31TmUMike McLaughlin, MBA ’13, will walk more than 2,500 miles over six months by thru-hiking the Appalachian and Ozark trails back-to-back, sleeping not in a tent, but a covered hammock. He is trying to bring attention to the plight of underprivileged children in St. Louis and Africa by raising funds for the Family Resource Center and a school for neglected blind children in Cameroon, Africa.

This spring and summer, McLaughlin will through-hike the entire Appalachian and Ozark trails back-to-back, helping to raise funds and awareness for underprivileged children, both locally and in Africa.

He’s hoping to become the first person ever to through-hike both trails consecutively.

A hike kick-off event, which is free and open to the public, will take place at noon Friday, Feb. 24, in Simon Hall’s May Auditorium on WUSTL’s Danforth Campus. McLaughlin will leave immediately following the event to begin his journey.

McLaughlin’s organization, hike4kids.com, is raising money for the St. Louis Family Resource Center and for a school for neglected blind children in Cameroon, Africa, which fellow MBA student Brooke James, herself legally blind, helped to found.

The six-month journey will be nothing compared to what many children around the world experience every day, McLaughlin says.

“Hike4kids is not about one guy doing a hike,” he says. “It’s about an entire community of people coming together to help these underprivileged kids and make sure they get a chance to have a good life for themselves.”

McLaughlin’s MBA class at Olin has rallied behind the cause, helping to raise funds through events, parties and other outreach efforts.

He says the idea for the hike came to him after spending time with James and getting to know about her efforts in Africa.

“Brooke is a truly amazing person,” McLaughlin says. “Although she’s legally blind, it’s hardly noticeable in class. She makes presentations and participates in discussions. I felt like our backgrounds dealing with adversity meshed well and after I heard about her efforts with the school in Africa, I began thinking of ways I could help out.”

James spent more than two years volunteering with the Peace Corps in Africa, helping to build a school for neglected blind children in Cameroon.

The school provides room, board and education for 25 children on a budget of less than $5,000 a year.

“I’m really thankful for Mike’s friendship and support,” James says. “He’s overcome so much in his life and I know how much it means for him to be able to give back to these kids.”

McLaughlin literally bears the scars of abuse. He has had one on his face since age 12, the result of his mother hitting him with a lamp after he lent a pair of pants to a friend. He and his sister were routinely locked in closets, electrocuted, starved and belittled.

But out of that tragedy, McLaughlin says, comes the ability and desire to give back.

“I felt so helpless when I was younger,” he says. “I was powerless to defend what was happening. But now, I’m in a position where I can fight back and do something that will have a direct positive impact on the lives of so many kids.”

For more information, visit hike4kids.com.