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A long walk to fight back

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June 23, 2010 - Ortonville- Allie Miller's goal was ambitious— she wanted to walk all 24 hours of the third annual Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville last weekend.

The 17-year-old, who will be a senior at Brandon High School this fall, arrived at the Varsity Drive football field at 9:30 a.m., June 19, and began walking the track at about 10:30 a.m., directly after the conclusion of the opening ceremonies for the event that raises funds for cancer research. By around 4:50 p.m., she had logged 18.87 miles according to her pedometer, and appeared to be limping slightly.

"I thought it would be a cool idea to walk 24 hours and it's a good goal for a good cause," said Miller, a member of the Brandon Cancer Kickers, one of 39 teams at the Relay. "I feel special because no one else is doing this (walking for 24 hours straight)."

Miller walked by herself sometimes, but also had friends join her, which she said helped to keep her mind off how bad her legs hurt. She had bought new tennis shoes to wear, but after getting blisters on her heels after only a half-hour into her quest, she swapped them for a pair of flip-flops.

At 8 a.m. the next morning, Miller was forced to stop after nearly 22 hours and a total of 58 miles.

"My feet had such bad blisters, I couldn't walk anymore," she said. "I wasn't too tired, I drank energy drinks. My mind wasn't tired, but my legs and feet were. Around 5 in the morning is when it really started hurting."

Although she didn't quite make her goal, Miller's attempt impressed many people, including her teammates and Raena Kalfayan, chairperson for the Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville, who was in the pressbox above the field and watching for Miller.

"We'd say, 'Is she still out there? Oh, there she is!'" said Kalfayan.

Miller could have easily been lost in the crowd— Kalfayan said there seemed to be a lot more people at the relay this year. While she was unsure of the total attendance, there were 521 registered participants this year, compared to the 386 that were on teams last year. And, even more exciting, said Kalfayan, is that this year's relay far exceeded the goal of raising $53,000 to fight cancer, set after $51,000 was raised last year. The 2010 Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville has brought in $74,472 so far for the American Cancer Society, and donations will continue to be accepted until Aug. 31 for this relay season.

"We're overachievers," laughed Kalfayan. "Overall, it was a great event. I couldn't have asked for anything more. Everyone worked so hard— the team captains, the committee members, the sponsors— they were all wonderful."

The Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville was also a selected sign-up site this year for the Cancer Prevention Study 3 (CPS-3).

Megan Holt, American Cancer Society community program representative, said 164 people were enrolled at the Brandon event for the nationwide study, in which 500,000 volunteers are sought to make a long-term commitment, giving a blood sample, and then completing a survey every two or three years for the next two or three decades.

"We did great," said Holt. "It's exactly what were were hoping to enroll. It's perfect."

Bruce and Marla Dixon, Brandon Township residents, attended the relay for the first time, and enrolled in the study.

"I wanted to support the activities," said Bruce. "We have some family members who have fought and survived cancer and some who have not, and I wanted to support cancer research. This is just another way to help research and help the community in general."

Sarah Spencer has participated in relays in Berrien and Isabella counties on and off during the past 11 years, after her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, but was drawn to the Brandon/Ortonville relay this year to participate in CPS-3.

"It is an honor to be able to recognize people who have fought so hard against their cancer," said the Brandon Fletcher Intermediate School teacher, a member of the Cancer Busters team comprised of BFIS staff and family members. She was joined at the relay by her husband, Rob, and children Grace, Robby and Lily.

In the CPS-3 tent at the relay, Katie Harrington cheerfully gave a blood sample to become a study participant.

"My Dad died from lung cancer 20 years ago and anything we can do to eliminate cancer from the globe, I will be happy to do, even if it means getting poked," she said.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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