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Maryland members make 20-mile trek possible for teenage boy in a wheelchair

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Johne Goodrich treks with members of the Columbia Maryland Stake at Camp Liahona near Fayetteville, Pennsylvania, July 14-16, 2022.

Amber Spencer


Many of us celebrate Pioneer Day with a parade, a party, and perhaps fireworks. 

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Johne Goodrich of Laurel, Maryland, recently honored the occasion by participating in a 20-mile stake youth trek.

In a wheelchair.

Goodrich, a native of Guam, has been a pioneer his entire life. Born at just 24 weeks, he’s faced a string of health challenges led by spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy. But no physical limitation would stop him when missionaries knocked on his family’s door in 2014. His heart and soul knew what they wanted, and it wasn’t long before the humble boy was carried into the Pacific Ocean to be baptized. Those in attendance still remember the sacred scene.

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Johne Goodrich is baptized in the Pacific Ocean in 2014.

Laura Goodrich

Tyson and Laura Goodrich were among those grateful witnesses. Serving in the Navy and stationed in Guam, the couple befriended the young pioneer with a challenging home life. What began as rides to church quickly turned to weekend adventures. Previously on a waiting list to foster a younger child, the Goodrichs amended their application and asked then 9-year-old Johne if he’d like to live with them.

“Yes,” said the perpetually ill and malnourished young man, and his pioneer journey began a new day.

After two years of adjusting to life with such luxuries as a bed, eyeglasses and unconditional love, it was time for Johne to decide if he wanted to be legally adopted and move back to the United States with his family. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” Laura Goodrich said. “We told him he likely would never be back in Guam. And as tough as his life had been, he loved those people.”

Johne first chose to remain on the island, but when movers began packing up his family for their move, he reversed course and asked if he might still become a Goodrich. It took 18 long months, but in February of 2019, a kind social worker from Guam flew Johne around the world to sign paperwork and be reunited with the Goodrich family.

He didn’t know it yet, but his trek had just begun.

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The Goodrich family at the temple with Johne in 2019.

Sarah Cole

This spring in Laurel, Maryland, Johne and his family, members of the Savage Mill Ward, had another decision to make. Would Johne register for the Columbia Maryland Stake youth trek? Would a simple wheelchair survive a 20-mile journey through the hills and creeks of Camp Liahona near Fayetteville, Pennsylvania? Would Church leaders and other youths be overburdened by his participation?

The answers came in a sweet series of miracles.

“We began discussing with the coordinators how it could work,” Johne’s mother said. “Would he need to ride in a wagon? A handcart? The support truck? But that’s not what Johne really wanted and his leaders were just incredibly kind and supportive.”

The Goodrichs began researching alternate wheelchairs, something that would allow him to fully participate, and discovered a design with mountain bike wheels and a unique frame. The price tag, especially for a three-day event, was a hurdle. But before the family could even make a decision about next steps, a friend and Church member stepped up.

Local member and professional caterer Karyn Wilcox suggested an online fundraiser with perfect perks — baked goods.

In just three weeks, friends and Church members in Maryland and beyond bought and sold treats to one another and raised nearly $4,000. Before they could even begin to thank Wilcox and the angelic army that made the miracle happen, the wheelchair was ordered, arrived and rigged for trek.

“It was a very great experience!” Johne said in an interview from his home the day after trek concluded. “The first day was the hardest, we went 12 miles. But I got sorted into an amazing trek family.”

With endless enthusiasm, he described each day and the hard terrain. “I had some helpers on the uphill climbs. Those were hard. But the downhills were fun!”

At one point on day two, Johne considered whether the trail was too tough to press on. “To be honest, I didn’t think about it long. I wanted to be there for my trek siblings. We just kept encouraging each other. We couldn’t let each other down.”

On day three as the company arrived at the end of their journey, the trail boss gathered them all in a circle and asked them to lift Johne in the air. “I was so hyped and emotional. People were cheering, and I had tears of joy in my eyes. It felt like all the burdens were lifted away, all those doubts. I felt courage!”

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Youth and leaders of the Columbia Maryland Stake lift Johne Goodrich in celebration after finishing a 20-mile stake youth trek at Camp Liahona near Fayetteville, Pennsylvania, July 16, 2022.

Amber Spencer

When asked what he’d say to the youths who lifted him up physically and spiritually, and to the adults who supported him along the way, and to his parents and sisters, and to those who donated to purchase his unique set of wheels, Johne didn’t hesitate. “I am filled with love for them. Without them none of this would be possible. Remember when you think you can’t make it, have faith in the people around you. You’ll get there.”

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