2010-08-12 / News

Team ‘Just Wings’ raises thousands for cancer research

By Cindy Cingone

Cancer is a disease that touches everyone. Whether it’s a mother or father, sister or brother, friend or relative, co-worker or neighbor – or even us – a cancer diagnosis brings hardship into our everyday lives.

Vicki Schmidt of Jamestown is determined to do something about that hardship.

Her niece, Annabelle Blakeley- Peterson, was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor before she reached her fifth birthday. For the next two-and-a-half years, she was in and out of hospitals, seeking treatment.

Annabelle endured painful chemotherapy, and also underwent a stem cell transplant, Schmidt said. She lost all of her hair, but her mother, Felicity Blakeley, knitted her a cap with blonde pigtails so she would not feel shame or embarrassment when she was with her peers.

One Christmas, Blakely took Annabelle to see Santa Claus, Schmidt said. Annabelle waited patiently for her turn to see Santa and when she was finally placed on Santa’s lap, he asked her what she wanted.

“Just wings,” she replied.

She died a short time after that visit, Schmidt said. She was just seven years old.

In memory of her niece, Schmidt began a fundraiser called “Just Wings,” whose only goal is to raise money for cancer research.

Since 2006, Schmidt and her 47 team members have been able to raise $50,000. Most of the team members are Jamestown residents, but in the last few years, “Just Wings” has included participants from Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine, as well as other parts of Rhode Island.

Schmidt is a R.N. at the Birthing Center at Newport Hospital. Team co-captain Joyce Hooley is a fourth-grade science teacher at Moses Brown School.

Both women explained that they raise money in several ways, including yard sales, pizza parties and movie nights. They also sell jewelry that they hand-bead.

Their most stand-out effort, however, is their affiliation with the Jimmy Fund and the Boston Marathon.

Every year since 2006, Schmidt, her family, friends and fellow team members have participated in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk.

This year, the marathon will take place on Sept. 12, and the entrance fee is $250.

In addition to the 26.2-mile marathon, participants can take part in a three-mile walk, five-mile walk or 13.1-mile walk.

The Boston Marathon has coordinated this fund-raising event for the past 22 years and has raised more than $66 million to support cancer research and care at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Schmidt reserves a block of 10 hotel rooms in Hopkinton, Mass. the night before the walk, and all meet bright and early the next day at 5:30 a.m.

“This is a walk, not a race,” she said. “Everyone walks at their own pace.”

The full 26.2-mile walk can take between 6.5 to eight hours to complete. There are many stops along the way, with generous food and drinks provided.

Schmidt recommended that participants pre-train for the event by walking between two and three hours a day to build up resistance.

Hooley commented that you really aren’t walking physically.

“You walk emotionally,” she said.

Islanders who would like to assist Schmidt – or become part of team “Just Wings” – can walk or make a donation, Schmidt said.

Most of the $50,000 she has raised over the years has come from small donations, she said.

“One dollar, five dollars, even 50 cents can make all the difference,” Hooley added.

Visit www.jimmyfundwalk.org to make a donation of $5 or more online, or mail checks made payable to the “Jimmy Fund Walk” to Schmidt at 21 Columbia Ave., Jamestown, RI 02835.

Businesses in Jamestown – or anywhere else – who would like to receive a hand-made donation box and sponsor a collection can call Schmidt at 423-1471.

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