Through a hike of more than 2,000 miles along the Appalachian Trail, a Marine Corps veteran who is now a first-year law student at William & Mary raised more than $4,000 this past summer to support the work of the school’s Puller Veterans Benefits Clinic.
R. Scott Herbert, a Newport News, Va., native, presented the check earlier this semester to Professor Patricia Roberts, who is the Law School’s Director of Clinical Programs and director of the Puller Clinic.
“Scott’s selflessness in hiking the Trail to raise funds for the Puller Clinic is indicative of the service that our current conflict veterans seek to provide to their communities once they leave active duty,” Roberts said. “The funds that he raised by completing this daunting physical and emotional challenge will be used to provide psychological evaluations from our medical partners for veteran clients who need comprehensive assessments to support their disability compensation claims. Scott’s efforts and the generosity of his supporters will provide for more than a dozen veterans to obtain appropriate diagnoses.”
Herbert graduated from the University of Maryland and moved back to his hometown while awaiting boot camp. After a few years in the service, he began to look into the prospect of law school. Deeply interested in returning to Virginia, Herbert applied to William & Mary Law School, and was accepted.
Knowing he had time between leaving the military and beginning his legal studies, he decided he wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, something he knew he might never have the opportunity to do again. What drew him most to the endeavor was the opportunity to set a goal for himself and overcome obstacles along the way.
“Doing the hike was much more motivating and rewarding to me than spending the summer in an enjoyable lifestyle ever could have been,” said Herbert.
When planning his hike, he decided that instead of walking 2,000 miles for his own sense of accomplishment, he wanted to use it as a platform to help his community. Herbert had heard of others dedicating their hikes to raising money for cancer research, for example, which inspired him to use his hike to benefit other veterans. He admired the work of many national veterans’ organizations, but wanted an organization that had made a demonstrated difference for the better in the Hampton Roads area. That perspective led him to the Puller Veterans Benefit Clinic.
“I had read plenty of articles about the clinic and all the work it was doing, and that stuck in my head as I was trying to figure out how to give back,” he said. “My philosophy has always been about giving back locally and helping those in your community.”
Herbert began fundraising by reaching out to people around town, contacting friends on Facebook, and asking bloggers on the trail to publicize his efforts as they chronicled their own hikes.
“I was surprised by the outpouring of support from people online,” he said. “Probably seventy percent of the donations came through just asking for support through Facebook posts.”
Hiking the trail, which stretches almost 2,200 miles across 14 states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, is an extraordinary accomplishment. Finished in 1937, it is the longest hiking-only trail in the world.
Herbert’s journey was not without its difficulties. He hiked through rain for two and a half weeks straight, trekked through hail, and had to hike through a thundercloud. He came in contact with a number of bears, and one of those encounters was particularly memorable.
“I snuck up on the bear by accident and found myself very close to him, so I decided I would let him know I was there and yelled out, ‘Hey, bear, here I am.’ He just eyed me with this look that said ‘Yeah dude, whatever. I’m just walking along like you are.’”
In the end, Herbert said the long hike was well worth it.
“Finishing the trail was just an emotional rush,” he said. “I had overcome all of the obstacles and burdens I faced just to get to the top of Mt. Katahdin. It was a perfect day, and I just got up there early and hung out enjoying the accomplishment. It was awesome to know I had finished what I set out to do.”
Herbert is happy that his hike will benefit veterans through the work of the Puller Clinic, and also hopes his example will encourage others to step up and help in their own communities. His advice to others: “Whatever you do, make sure it adds value.”
About William & Mary Law School
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.