“Cougar Climber” seeks sponsors to help support nursing students

Erin Roach, ’86, (above right) got his degree from the Carson College of Business, but he’s on a mission to turn his passion for the outdoors into a one-of-a-kind fundraising campaign to support the WSU Spokane College of Nursing.

Roach’s wife, Linda Hess (above left), received her nursing degree from University of Illinois, and went on to a 38-year career in nursing before retiring. Both she and Roach have been enthusiastic supporters of WSU’s nursing program, which ranks in the top 10 nationwide for NIH funding.

As the pandemic emerged in 2020, the Gig Harbor couple witnessed the many challenges Covid-19 posed to our healthcare system, including the worsening of an already urgent national nursing crisis—from workforce shortages to lack of workplace protections to inequitable compensation to physical and mental exhaustion from overwork.

Roach and Hess wanted to do something, but they didn’t know what.

Around this time, Roach, 58, now a retired grocery buyer, was putting together a WSU memory book as a Christmas present for his older brother, who had been a senior at WSU when Roach was a freshman. The brothers come from a Coug family—parents, two uncles, and a cousin are all Cougs.

“My experience at WSU was particularly great because my brother was my college mentor,” Roach said. “While I was putting that memory book together, I got WSU fever all over again.”

“Climb for Care 2023”

The memory book project also inspired him to come up with a plan to raise money for the WSU College of Nursing.

The plan—to raise $50,000 in scholarships and programs for the WSU College of Nursing by climbing 50 mountains in Washington and neighboring states—honors his wife’s nursing career and brings attention to the nursing crisis. He and his wife named the campaign “Climb for Care 2023.”

Erin Roach began his climbing campaign on April 23, 2023, starting with Mt. Si, east of Seattle—climbing it twice in one day. Photo: Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust

Fit and lean, Roach would not call himself a mountain climber, but he has a lifetime of experience hiking and scrambling, both necessary skills that support his favorite outdoor pastime of backcountry flyfishing.

“I did 25-mile roundtrips last year with 3,500-4,000 feet of elevation gain. It wasn’t at all a problem for me—truly something I enjoy,” he said.

Through this unique fundraising campaign, “I’m able to bring together three things I love in life—my wife, WSU, and the outdoors—to address the national nursing crisis,” Roach said.

“The whole idea is that each climb is one step at a time,” said Roach, “just as our country needs to hire one nurse at a time to address the nursing shortage in all 50 states.

This is not a traditional pledge campaign, with donors agreeing to pledge a certain amount for each mile hiked or each mountain climbed. Instead, Roach and Hess are asking organizations and individuals, especially WSU alumni, to donate directly to one of three funds through the WSU College of Nursing:

  • The General Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships for nursing students who have demonstrated academic excellence and financial need,
  • The Student Success Fund, which supports the Center for Student Excellence and provides essential nursing educational resources for its students, and
  • The Center for Experiential Learning, which provides nursing students with the opportunity to apply their skills, practice teamwork and communication and gain experience in high-risk procedures in clinical simulations.

You can learn more and contribute to Roach’s quest to raise $50,000 for nursing at https://nursing.wsu.edu/climb-for-care/

Double Shifts, Half Hour Breaks

On April 23, he began Climb for Care by climbing Mount Si, east of Seattle. “I climbed Si twice on the same day,” said Roach, “to highlight the fact that so many of our nation’s nurses are having to work double shifts and overtime at a moment’s notice, due to the nursing shortage.”

In addition, he took only a half-hour break before climbing the mountain the second time to symbolize the half-hour dinner break nurses get during each 12-hour shift.

After Mount Si, the next two peaks he climbed were Mount Olympus near Salt Lake City and Mount Storm King back in Washington. And he’s kept up a steady pace: as of mid-July Roach had already climbed 18 peaks.

Climb for Care will take place over a period of 38 nonconsecutive days (from April into fall), during which Roach will document his progress on his Instagram account. He also intends to post stories about the phenomenal work that nurses undertake every day as well as the hardships they endure.

Not surprisingly, his wife, the big inspiration behind his campaign, is equally passionate about nursing and the contributions nurses make to our communities.

“Nurses are nurses 24 hours a day,” Hess said. “They don’t just hang up their profession when they go home. Every nurse can tell stories of helping their community beyond their work—from caring for a sick neighbor to alerting a loved one or friend of a possible illness they may be dealing with.”

Roach envisions that Climb for Care will become an annual event. “If we’re really going to tackle the nursing shortage, my hope is that next year and beyond, others will get behind this cause and carry on the campaign.”