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An Oklahoma firefighter and dad of three young kids died in a rock climbing accident last week — just three years after he beat stage four cancer.
Levi Wilkins, 36, an avid climber and self-described “alpinist,” died while climbing Friday, his wife Emily announced in a social media post.
“He was the most incredible husband, father, son, brother & friend,” she wrote in the post. “Having been together since we were 16 I don’t know how to do life without him and I never wanted to learn.”
Wilkins went through four rounds of chemotherapy and surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and a single dose of radiation therapy — completing treatment in March 2020.
“After beating cancer he lived BIG,” his widow wrote. “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.”
The Norman Fire Department said the news of his death crushed its staffers.
“It’s difficult to express just how hard it hit when we learned of Levi’s passing yesterday,” the department wrote in a statement. “A few years ago, he courageously battled cancer and came out stronger on the other side. He lived life to the fullest every day and everyone who knew him, loved him.”
No details about the circumstances of Wilkins’ death, other than it happened while he was rock climbing, were revealed.
Wilkins had planned to scale peaks in Bolivia, Denali and the Himalayas over the next three years, according to his online posts.
He didn’t let his past cancer diagnosis — which he battled for about a year — get in the way of his love for extreme climbs or running marathons.
“I plan to keep participating in these types of activities as long as I can,” Wilkins wrote in June 28 blog post. “I’ve never considered NOT doing it. To me, they’re a critical part of transitioning from the mindset of a patient back to that of a survivor.”
Just three days before his death, Wilkins spoke about his appreciation for the risk that comes with rock climbing.
“One of the best things about climbing, and family, and firefighting, and life, is risk,” he wrote in the caption of a video of himself scaling the side of a cliff. “We generally think of risk as a bad thing, but what is existence without it? Do you have something in your life that invigorates you because of the risk?”
Wilkins leaves behind his wife of 14 years and their three children, two sons and a daughter, in fifth grade, second grade and kindergarten.