Anna Li, Trinity ‘18, was just 15 years old when she found out her best friend had cystic fibrosis.
The two met through marching band and immediately hit it off. When Li learned of her friend’s struggle with the genetic disorder, which affects the lungs, she was inspired to find a cure.
“I think as a naive 15-year-old, for some reason I thought that if a cure didn’t exist, then I would go into research and find one,” she said.
For the past 5 1/2 years, Li worked in a cystic fibrosis lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill doing research in stem cell therapy. This past May she graduated from Duke with a degree in biology. Now, she’s moving to Seattle to continue her cystic fibrosis research—this time with a focus on antibiotic resistance and microbiology.
But Li felt like she needed something to reinvigorate herself before getting started on her career, she explained. And so she decided to backpack 65 miles through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia in order to raise money for research in cystic fibrosis.
“I have been super passionate about research, but I definitely feel like after a couple years of doing it, and not being able to push anything to the clinic in that time…I’m a little bit burned out,” she said. “I felt like I needed some sort of push to get my inspiration back for doing research.”
Her journey started Sept. 21, and when she spoke with The Chronicle, she had 35 miles down and 30 more to go. The 22-year-old has only ever backpacked once before, but never this far and never on her own.
“Even though my empathy for my friend drives my research, I still can never know what it’s like to have cystic fibrosis," Li said. "I’m not the one who’s sick. She has to do hours of treatments every day and I don’t have to do that because I’m healthy."
Although she’ll never know what it’s like to have the disorder, she said she hopes to gain a better understanding by testing her own physical limits.
“I think it’s important to push myself and to feel that breathlessness of climbing a mountain while having 30 pounds on my back,” she said.
Li added that she hopes to raise $6,500 by the end of her trip. All donations will go toward the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
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