Stepping up to support cancer research

POULSBO — Walkers, runners and joggers from all over the peninsula and beyond stepped up to the plate and out for a cause July 18. They lined up, ready to round the North Kitsap High School track over and over, long into the night and during the following day.

While some might think such activity odd, especially in the heat that has been hitting the Puget Sound, those in attendance were there for an important reason — the event was to support cancer patients, victims and survivors.

North Kitsap’s Fourth annual and largest ever Relay for Life got underway Friday bringing 26 teams into the fold and raising $79,000 for cancer research.

The event hit the starting line at 6 p.m. with a special lap for survivors to honor their struggle with and defeat of cancer. As they walked, inspirational words were given by Ronine Riggins and Michael Sutton, while family members and teammates cheered the survivors on.

Relay for Life is an opportunity for people who have dealt with cancer to come together to celebrate life, pay respect to those who have lost the battle, and to encourage those who are still fighting on the front lines, all while raising money for cancer research.

“We’re here because we all have survivors and friends who have died of cancer,” Leanne Burrows, of Team Jimbalita, said. One of Burrows’ teammates explained that a 25-year-old friend of hers had already been diagnosed with breast cancer.

After the opening lap, survivors were invited to a special dinner donated by Outback Steakhouse. Under the Outback tent, they each got a plate piled high with food and a ticket for items that were going to be raffled off.

Colorful team tents were made more so by the decorations put up. Zac’s Bloomers Team decorated its tents like huts with tiki lamps in front while the Leo Club Team just had an umbrella and chairs — but the spunk of the teenagers under the umbrella made the squad’s spot feel brighter.

“It’s a good cause and it’s a lot of fun. We’ve done it for the last three years,” said Sierra Urie, one of the teens on the Leo Club Team.

Another tent had a sign stating, “When I’m ‘Old’ I Shall Wear Purple” along the top with purple clothes and red shoes hanging from the walls, all explained in a poem written by Jenny Joseph.

Participants reasons for attending the event were similar, each as heartfelt as the last.

“We’ve been doing this for eight years because everybody on our executive board has been touched or known someone with cancer,” said Team FMA member Stephanie Schmittler.

Participants were also encouraged to decorate luminaries that were lit later in the evening. The small white bags lined the track, stark against the green grass of the field, as reminders of those who had lost their fights with cancer.

“I lost a lot of great family and friends,” said Gail King. “It’s what I can do right now.”

But the event had a certain levity to it as well.

Miss Poulsbo 2001 Jeana Ostheller, Miss Poulsbo 2002 Kristen Eddings and Miss Kitsap 2003 Maria Knox, sang the National Anthem prior to the the survivors’ lap, and continued to sing until about 8 p.m. The trio also belted out classics and old favorites, kicking their set off with “I Will Survive.” John Lind also sang some old jazz favorites that inspired the people who were taking their shift around the track. After they wrapped up their respective sets, The Rick Allyn Band tuned in some modern favorites to keep the music lovers’ toes tapping and feet moving.

In addition to providing delicious pies, Suquamish Bella Luna Pizza owner Bob Rowden had more than a foot of his hair lopped off and donated it to Locks of Love. The organization makes such clippings into wigs for cancer patients who have lost their hair during chemotherapy.

Susan Bell of Poulsbo also decided to donate her hair and although she opted not to shave her head, she still gave about 14 inches to the cause.

“I was ready a year ago, but I had to grow it out for Locks of Love,” Bell said.

Terry Schumacher from the Head Hunter in Poulsbo performed the “mass cutting” while people walking by on the track cheered on Rowden and Bell.

Throughout the evening, into the night, and all during the next day, teams, friends and families took steps to show their support for cancer research and everyone impacted by the disease — from those who are being treated to those who have won the hard fight.

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