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Sophia Spooner's dad always finished what he started. That's one thing that kept Sophia going during her 2,659-mile hike.

Sophia's dad, Ray, passed away from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) — a neuromuscular disease that causes weakness and eventual paralysis of all voluntary muscles, including those used for breathing and swallowing — on Aug. 8, 2016.

10 months later, Sophia started hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which spans from the Mexico/California border all the way up to the Washington/Canada border, to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and its ALS Care Centers, which provide specialized care for people like Ray.


"I wanted to do something I thought my dad would be proud of," Spooner says. "I know he would’ve been proud of me for doing this.”

Spooner on the PCT. Photo via Sophia Spooner.

Ray was no stranger to tackling major feats of endurance either.

Immediately after finding out he had ALS in 2014, Ray decided to bike across the country from San Diego, California, to St. Augustine, Florida, to raise funds for MDA. Not only did he complete his mission, he also raised $85,000 in the process and encouraged others to fundraise too, bringing the total to more than $120,000.

This was the initial inspiration for Sophia's walk.

"One thing I learned from him is if you do something crazy, people will give you money for a cause that you care about," Spooner says.

But what led her to the Pacific Crest Trail wasn't just this one example of strength. It was a culmination of everything her family went through after Ray's diagnosis.

Sophia and her dad Ray. Photo via Sophia Spooner.

Sophia had just returned from a semester abroad in India when her family sat her down and told her that her dad had ALS. It was January 2015, which meant she had to go back to school after being dealt this enormous blow.

Her last year and a half of college was anything but easy because she felt so removed from everything that was going on back home in Urbana, Illinois. Then she graduated and things changed dramatically.

Her father's condition had advanced rapidly, and she was immediately thrown into the role of caregiver along with her mother and siblings.

Going from being totally disconnected to caring for her father full-time was hard but ultimately life-affirming.  

Sophia and her family advertising shirts for Ray's bike ride. Photo via Sophia Spooner.

The experience solidified a bond between Sophia and her family in a way that nothing else could. It often involved challenges, especially when Ray lost the ability to speak, but there were still beautiful moments that Sophia cherishes.

The family had a ritual of putting on Leonard Cohen's album "Popular Problems" while they got Ray ready for bed; then they'd all lie down with him until he fell asleep.

And even when he could no longer speak, he'd tell his family he loved them through a series of breaths.

Despite the difficulties, Sophia and her dad's relationship grew stronger, especially because he got to see how capable his daughter really was.

Ray faced life and death head-on. Sophia wanted to do the same, and that meant stepping out of her comfort zone.

Sophia looking out on a sunset while on her hike. Photo via Sophia Spooner.

While her dad was a prolific hiker, Sophia had no such experience when she set out alone to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It was altogether exciting and terrifying at first, but then she made some new friends on the trail and things started to get easier.

"I set up my tent the first night and yelled out, ‘Does anyone want to play Euchre with me?’ I got a couple takers and ended up hiking with them for more than 1,000 miles,” Sophia recalls.

She was by far the youngest — and probably the least experienced — among her group, but her confidence made up for it.

Sophia with her hiking buddies. Photo via Sophia Spooner.

Covering almost 20 miles a day was certainly taxing, but her emotional journey hit her just as hard, if not harder.

Her new friends were incredibly supportive, but she longed to have someone there who really understood what the past year had been like for her. Thankfully, her boyfriend Yoni was able to join her at mile 485.

Sophia with Yoni on the PCT. Photo via Sophia Spooner.

"Just being around someone who was aware of what I was going through was so liberating," Sophia says.

However, that didn't mean there weren't extremely difficult days.

Sophia with her hiking crew trudging through the mountains. Photo by Kayla Miller.

Some days the hikers trudging through heavy snow; others, they were laboring under oppressive heat. On one of the hottest days, they had to scale an impossibly steep hill. Sophia thought they could take a breather under a small tree at the top of it, but when they reached it, it provided little to no shade. That's when she heard her dad for the first time on the trail.

He told her, "Whelp, you better keep going!"

So she did, knowing he still had her back.

He was with her at night too in the form of the Lou Reed song "Perfect Day," from the album "Transformer" that Ray had “assigned” Sophia to listen to before and after his death. She would also play it over and over again on her phone as she hiked.

Her dad wasn't the only one pushing her forward when things got tough though. The MDA was also behind her.

Sophia at mile 500 on the PCT. Photo via Sophia Spooner.

MDA helped Sophia launch her campaign to raise money for ALS care and cheered her on just when she was about to give up.

"I was in Northern California and very very ready to quit the trail," Sophia recalls.

Then MDA reached out to her with messages of encouragement. She knew she couldn't let her cause or the MDA and ALS communities down.

Sophia finished her walk on Sept. 9 and is eager to get back home and start on a new adventure — life after college.

She'll always carry the lessons she learned on the trail and while caring for her father: live life beyond limits, keep your loved ones close, and always finish what you start.  

For more about Sophia's story, check out the video below:

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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I almost didn't create this post this week.

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