Like many families in the Pacific Northwest, Hike it Baby Tacoma branch lead Nikki Merwin’s family was enthusiastic about camping, riding bikes, and hiking when she was growing up. Nikki on the other hand, did not share that passion.
Born with a hereditary heart condition, to date she has had three open heart surgeries and two closed heart surgeries due to missing the right ventricle in her heart. Nikki laughs now when she talks about how as a teenager she convinced her cardiologist to tell her parents that she wasn’t physically able to hike so she could bow out on family outings
When you meet Nikki now on trail it’s hard to believe that as a teen she often felt like she was being dragged along by her family to hike. Part of the reason might have been because she was the oldest of five and got roped into being a part of everything, but she also attributes her poor circulation and the fact that she turned blue when she got cold due to her heart problems.
While hiking may have been uncomfortable for Nikki, pregnancy was a whole new ordeal for her. Heart complications led to her doctor to put her on bed rest. “I was on bed rest (with Penny) for 5 months total,” said Nikki, “Two months at home and then 11 weeks at the University of Washington in Seattle.” Not getting any fresh air and being bed bound, she remembers telling a friend that, “[When] I get out of here I’m getting outside!!”
Nikki’s Hike it Baby story is heartwarming–literally and figuratively–and inspires those of us who may have doubts about joining in on the next HiB hike to push past our excuses, and as a result, enables us to find a community that will embrace us and help us reach even higher goals in life.
“14 months before I had Penny I had a son, named Zander, who was born at 22 weeks gestation. I was on bed rest for 3 months of my pregnancy with him, then had some massive complications that caused me to go into labor. After he died I couldn’t get out of bed. I went to a counselor and found a support group on Facebook. I thought I was doing ok, I thought I was dealing. But when your child dies it is a very lonely place that is very hard to see the happiness in anything. 6 months later I found out I was pregnant with Penny. I was so incredibly happy and so incredibly scared. I don’t think I took a breath the whole pregnancy. It wasn’t until HiB that I really allowed myself to feel everything, and I’m finally feeling like a normal person again [and] see the good in the world. I will never be the person I was before my kids were born (nobody ever is) but I can be happy, and it’s ok to be happy!”
Now, Nikki’s journey continues after the birth of her daughter. Hike it Baby has been influential in her life physically, emotionally and spiritually.
“After my daughter was born, I was a new mom [and] didn’t have many friends who were SAHM’s, or their kids were much older than mine, so I gave up and sat at home that summer. When my daughter was about 6 months old an old friend added me to the HiB Tacoma group. I knew it was just what I was looking for! I trolled the page for a month or so, then finally got the courage to go on a hike. I had one friend who had a son the same age as my daughter and I made her come with me to our first HiB hike. I was hooked! I went on hikes as often as I could and started scoping out trails around my house. After about a month I was leading my own. I joined the HiB30 Challenges and even though I didn’t make it to 30 miles until my 4th challenge, I was getting outside with Penny! Since then our family camping trips have to include finding a new trail to hike. I’ve lost all my baby weight and my oxygen stats have gone up 4%! In the summer of 2015, the branch lead for Tacoma was moving out of the state and asked a few of us to become branch leads. I gladly excepted!
I’ve always been scared of incline hikes. Again, because of my heart condition, I’m easily winded and didn’t feel like I would be able to handle anything over a 500 foot incline. Last week I went on a hike I was expecting [to be] 3.5 miles and 350 foot incline. It ended up being 5 miles total and about 1.5 miles of that was almost a 1,000 foot incline. I finished, with my daughter in the Deuter [backpack carrier] the whole way, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be! I would have never even tried that hike before HiB. My husband, sisters and parents have even come with me on hikes.”
Sharing this story was courageous and we hope that others can find strength from her story to reach out and find others to help when the path looks dark and scary. Thank you to Nikki for sharing her HiB story and showing us her Hike it Baby spirit!