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Jasper grandfather plans 1,200-km U.K. trek as ‘Hazel’s Helper’

20140914_141426Jasperite David Hatto has high hopes for a bucket list hike he begins next week.

After months of planning he will embark on a 1,200 km journey along England’s famed South West Coast to raise money and awareness for Hazel’s Heroes, a foundation started by his daughter-in-law after she lost her three-month old daughter, Hazel Rose, to Sudden Unexplained Infant Death in August 2014.

Hazel’s mom, Gillian Hatto, said it was difficult during the early stages of her grieving process because there wasn’t a lot of formal support for parents who had just lost an infant child. To change things she started Hazel’s Heroes to support grieving parents and give them the heart-healing retreats they need.

All of that of course requires money, so the recently retired Hatto cast himself as Hazel’s Helper and decided to embark on a three-month journey, which includes a 135-mile paddle down the River Thames.

When he first learned of his granddaughter’s passing he said he was at a loss as to how to help his daughter-in-law during such a dark time. When Gillian started the foundation, he found his answer.

“That’s where the helplessness ended for me,” Hatto said. “I realized I could maybe attract attention and raise funds.”

He said he’s always wanted to hike the South West Coast Path, a 1,008 km journey packed with scenery and history. Much of its route was driven by law enforcement’s need to be able to survey every nook and cranny of the coastline for smugglers, resulting in a trail that hugs the coast.

It’s also well populated, which makes the path a more feasible choice for a solo excursion.

Hatto, who describes himself as an avid hiker and paddler, said he’s always intended to take each of his grandchildren on their first major multi-day outdoor adventure as they each turn 10.

“This trip is Hazel’s trip as a granddaughter.”

The first Hazel’s Heroes retreat, for moms who have lost children under 12 years old, takes place in Kananaskis next month, May 26-28, which takes place a day before what would have been Hazel Rose’s birthday, May 29.

“Every year we do something special on her birthday, so this is kind of our way of honouring her,” Gillian said. “I didn’t want people to not be able to come due to financial restrictions.”

She hopes to make it an annual event, which is where fundraising sources like grandpa Dave come in.

“I was really taken aback, proud and amazed,” Gillian said of learning of Hatto’s plan. “I think the fact he included Hazel on his journey was really special.”

Gillian said meeting other parents with similar experiences was a powerful aspect of her healing process and though her research turned up retreats in other parts of the world, there was nothing in Wild Rose country.

So far 16 moms have registered to benefit from the help of a psychologist, a yoga teacher trained in trauma yoga, and Cochrane artist Heidi Smyth, who will lead them through some art therapy.

“You feel really isolated and that no one understands,” she said. “It is so healing to meet others who do understand, who have been through the worst time of their lives.”

For more information visit Hatto’s blog at www.hazels-helper.com or visit his GoFundMe page  at www.gofundme.com/27hqmgc. You can also donate directly to the foundation by searching @HazelsHeroes on Facebook.

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