Looking to raise funds for cancer research at the City of Hope Medical Center, Rancho Mission Viejo resident Phil Burden will embark on a 120-mile hike from Baker, California to Las Vegas this fall in memory of a friend, Orangetown Chief of Police Kevin Nulty.
Nulty died in 2022 after battling Mantle Cell Lymphoma. Burden, who was diagnosed with the same form of cancer in 2021, is looking to honor his former roommate and fellow former police officer by walking the same route that law enforcement officers run in a relay race each year.
The friends were roommates after college, while both working in different police departments on the East Coast.
“He went from a patrol officer when we were both roommates in the ’70s and he stuck with it,” Burden said. “He eventually became the chief of police.”
Burden, 70, added that even after he moved out west, he stayed in touch with Nulty, traveling back to New York once a year to catch up.
“I remember getting a call from my sister who lives back on the East Coast … About six years ago, she said, “Phil, did you hear?’—we call him The Chief—and she said, ‘Did you hear that The Chief is sick?’ ” Burden recalled.
“He told me he had leukemia and that he felt OK. He was still working, and he was getting treatment,” Burden continued. “He fought the disease for five or six years. He passed away in March of 2022.”
It was only after Nulty died that Burden learned his best friend had been fighting the same form of cancer he himself had been diagnosed with in October 2021.
“He had went through all this five years ahead of me,” Burden said. “It was just a very odd coincidence. I’m a firm believer in my faith and know the Lord works in mysterious ways.”
While he felt healthy and active, Burden wanted to hold a fundraiser for the City of Hope.
“Knowing that Kevin passed away from this disease and being such a wonderful person, a good friend, let me do the walk in his honor,” Burden continued.
Burden had always been active, running the LA Marathon in 1991, and walking a minimum of 200 miles a month since 2010. Training for his walk in October, Burden upped his goal from 200 miles a month to 250.
Burden will begin his trek on Oct. 4, hiking from Baker to make his way towards Las Vegas. He expects to walk, on average, about 12 miles a day.
Burden chose the 120-mile course after a relay race that law enforcement officers run each spring.
“I got this idea from being a former police officer on the East Coast—and actually our youngest son is an LA County deputy sherriff. He has not yet run in the race but many of his co-workers have and he’s probably going to do it next year,” Burden said.
“Thousands of police officers run this every year,” Burden continued. “So, knowing that my former roommate Kevin became the chief of police in a local department back in New York, and we would run together when we were roommates, we did 10Ks together.”
While speaking with a few retired LA County deputy sheriffs who he knew had participated in the annual race and also coached teams for the race, Burden asked, ‘Is this doable?’ ”
“They do (the race) in 13 hours, they’re just remarkable,” Burden said. “I’m going to do it over the course of 10 days, walking about 12 miles a day. The terrain is both flat and hilly and you do negotiate the mountain range, 5,400 feet going over that mountain peak.”
Burden added that for him, it was not a race, but a matter of completing the course. In planning the course, the main concern posed by the police representative he spoke to was safety.
“There’s an LA County deputy sheriff who I’m friendly with; he relocated out in Arizona now but … he said that over his 30 years, he’s probably run about 14 of the 20 legs and he had also coached one of the women teams.”
“He said, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s doable. It’s long, it’s hard and you’ve got to be prepared for contingencies and safety,’ ” Burden continued.
When Burden began planning for the fundraiser, he set a goal of raising $25,000, but after soaring past that goal, he pushed it to $40,000.
“The immediate response was so good that I had a couple of people congratulating me on 25 but I had already changed it to 40,” Burden said.
Burden added that raising more than $35,000 for the City of Hope—as of Monday, Aug. 7—two months out from his trek “feels wonderful.”
“I’m thrilled with the progress to date,” Burden said. “Even though you have to put an amount on there, it really should be no limitations. If we get to 40, let’s then go to 50. If we get to 50, let’s go beyond that.”
“The more money we raise, the more research they can do at the City of Hope,” Burden said.
Burden added that he’s paying all the expenses of the hike out of his own pocket so that 100% of the funds raised can go to the City of Hope.
“This is a public thing, I get it, but I’m not doing it for me,” Burden said. “I’m doing it for the City of Hope and in Kevin’s memory.”
“I mean, the benefit I’m going to get out of it is to feel good about having a good cause,” Burden continued. “I’ll continue to stay in shape, it’s going to help my health by doing that walking and bringing my family together, which is a good thing.”
Burden added that everyone has been touched by cancer in some way.
“There are 100 different types of just lymphoma, so we have a lot of cures that we need to come up with, it’s not just one, unfortunately,” Burden said. “We’ve got skin cancer, brain cancer, leukemias, lymphomas. So, we need to raise money.”
Still two months out, Burden said the outpouring of support has been incredible.
“I’m really touched and so was Kevin’s widow … she’s told me many times since we’ve been talking and texting that her heart is filled,” Burden said.
More information about the fundraiser and how to donate can be found at ourhope.cityofhope.org.