Okla. firefighter dies rock climbing after surviving stage 4 cancer
Norman Firefighter Levi Wilkins vowed to keep exploring nature after battling stage 4 adrenal cancer
By Mitchell Willetts
The Charlotte Observer
NORMAN, Okla. — An Oklahoma firefighter died in a rock climbing accident at a wildlife refuge, officials say.
Levi Wilkins, a husband and father, lived adventurously, even after receiving a diagnosis of stage 4 adrenal cancer in 2019, he wrote in a 2023 blog post for the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Wilkins survived and was cancer-free, but he vowed to keep exploring nature and pushing himself — and planned to take on the mountains of Bolivia, Alaska and the Himalayas.
He also returned to his full duties with the Norman Fire Department, he said.
“I got to learn a lesson at age 32 that most people don’t learn until they’re much older,” Wilkins wrote. “Now, I get to live the rest of my life — however long that may be — savoring this incredible gift.”
Wilkins was rock climbing at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge with another climber on Sept. 22 when he fell, refuge officials said in a news release.
Rescuers responded to the Narrows Trail at about 12:24 p.m. and “initiated a high angle rescue operation to rescue two climbers, one of whom appeared to have suffered a medical emergency” about an hour later, the release said.
Wilkins didn’t survive, his wife, Emily Wilkins, said in a Facebook post.
“He was the most incredible husband, father, son, brother & friend. Having been together since we were 16 I don’t know how to do life without him and I never wanted to learn,” she said. “After beating cancer he lived BIG. He believed every day was a gift, and it brings great comfort to know how happy he was doing what he loved when his time came.”
Officials did not say what caused Levi Wilkins to fall.
Located in southwestern Oklahoma, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge features 60,000 acres of prairie, lakes and granite mountains, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It is roughly 85 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.