CHAFFEE COUNTY, Colo. — At just 7 years old, Martin Kisel's life changed when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
"In one day, my world turned into doctors and nurses and chemotherapy," Kisel said. "I had no idea what was happening. The only thing that I knew was that I was scared and confused."
Kisel, now 37, said his treatment lasted about four years.
"It's terrible. It's overnight stays in the hospitals. It's daily pokes with needles, spinal tap operations, bone marrow operations," he described.
He said during that difficult time in his life, it was a simple gesture from his mother that made all the difference.
"One day she came into my room, and she had a box that was wrapped up in gift wrap. She said, 'Martin, from here on out, every time you go to the hospital, you be brave. I'm going to reward you with a toy for your bravery,'" Kisel recalled. "I still knew the hospital was going to hurt. I was still scared, but at 7 years old, you're offering me a toy. I mean, I pretty much put up with anything. It put my mind at ease."
Now, he's providing that same comfort to other children who are going through the same thing.
It all started with a nonprofit foundation his mother launched back in 1996 when he was a child, called The Pediatric Oncology Treasure Chest Foundation.
"How it operates is the same way that it operated with me. Kids all across the nation are going through these treatments. Every time these kids go to the hospital, they get to pick out a toy," he said.
The nonprofit has partnered with 65 hospitals all across the nation, and it benefits 16,000 children and teens every month, according to Kisel.
He said he wanted to create his own fundraiser to raise money for his mom's organization. He and his best friend, Steve Jackson, created Climb for the Kids a few years ago.
"We climb mountains for kids. I'm an outdoorsman, and I just wanted to find a way to combine my love of the outdoors and raise money for these kids fighting cancer," Kisel said.
Every year, he and a group pick a 14er to climb and a date. This year, they'll hike La Plata Peak on July 15.
People can donate through their GoFundMe page. Every year, they set a goal of around $5,000.
They've raised around $16,000 since the fundraiser began five years ago.
"To stand on one of these beautiful peaks and know that we did it for these kids, it's everything to me. These kids go through so much. I always say they're truly my heroes," Kisel said.