2011-08-25 / News

‘Just Wings’ takes the street with eyes set on conquering cancer


Vicki Schmidt holds a photo of her great-niece Anabelle Blakely Peterson, who died of brain cancer in 2005 at age 7. Each year Schmidt assembles a team to walk in Anabelle’s honor. 
PHOTO BY MARGO SULLIVAN Vicki Schmidt holds a photo of her great-niece Anabelle Blakely Peterson, who died of brain cancer in 2005 at age 7. Each year Schmidt assembles a team to walk in Anabelle’s honor. PHOTO BY MARGO SULLIVAN Anabelle Blakeley-Peterson liked to do all the things that little girls do when she visited her great-aunt, Vicki Schmidt, in Jamestown. She combed Mackerel Cove for “the tiniest seashells” and specks of sea glass, and she chased the sea bass behind Spinnaker’s.

Her favorite explorations happened at Beavertail, but in one picture that has stayed in Schmidt’s mind, Anabelle did sit still - inside Cathryn Jamieson’s salon while she had her nails painted.

Anabelle was 4 years old going on 5 when her doctors discovered medulloblastoma, a highly malignant type of brain tumor that strikes children. She came within two months of celebrating her 8th birthday; and although she ultimately lost her personal battle against brain cancer on Aug. 26, 2005, her fight continues for Schmidt and a team of friends and relatives who will again demonstrate their love for Anabelle and other cancer victims on Sunday, Sept. 18, when they complete the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk from Hopkinton, Mass., to Copley Square. It is the 23rd time that the walk has taken place.

Over the past five years, “Just Wings” – the name of Schmidt’s team – raised $60,490.91 for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute’s research. This will be her sixth walk, and she set the 2011 goal at $10,000. Every year, the team has raised between $10,000 and $14,000, and they are not quitting.

“I want to reach our $100,000 goal,” said Schmidt, who is a nurse at Newport Hospital. “I also want to walk until I can’t walk anymore.”

More than 50 people have helped raise money for “Just Wings” over the past five years, she said. So far, 16 people have signed up for this year’s installment, but it’s not too late. New members are welcome, she said. Schmidt chose this event because the registration obligates people to raise only $250, far less than other charity walks require. Walkers 12 years of old and younger have a fundraising minimum of $100.

“That’s doable for most people,” she said. She added that if they’re uncomfortable asking people to donate, they can write the check out of pocket.

Since 1989, thousands of people have participated in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk and raised more than $73 million for cancer research, according to Meredith Habgood, the walk spokeswoman. Jamestown this year is sending Schmidt, husband Deken, son Ben, and friends Eileen Tiexiera, Joyce Hooley Bartlett and Joanne Phillips. Schmidt’s daughter Blakeley, now of Washington, D.C., also will participate.

“Many have personal stories about why they walk and raise money,” Habgood said.

Anabelle gave the team its name, Schmidt said. In the middle of her initial brain cancer treatment at Hartford Children’s, she was allowed a visit with Santa Claus. Santa asked what she wanted – she replied, “Just wings.”

Schmidt held a picture of the child, dressed in a ballerina costume with butterfly wings made especially for her.

Anabelle remains the team’s inspiration, Schmidt said, but the team also walks for other friends and relatives.

“Everyone knows someone touched by cancer,” Schmidt said.

One team member, Hooley Bartlett, wears a T-shirt inscribed with names of people she is honoring. Some she mourns, she said, but some have beaten the disease.

“It’s a huge emotional trip,” Hooley Bartlett said.

She described the feeling of standing alongside “people who have been cured, people still in it, and people supporting their loved ones.”

“You’re immersed in it,” she said.

In past years, she has passed mile marker posters of Jimmy Fund children in treatment. “Four years later, they’ve been cured and are walking themselves,” she said.

Hooley Bartlett, a chemistry and biology teacher at Moses Brown School on Providence’s East Side, said she is encouraged by the progress in cancer treatment. She said that although many more women, for example, today survive breast cancer, too many still die.

The money for research, she said, is critical, and the Dana Farber doctors are confident and determined they will find the cure.

They aren’t being arrogant, she said. “It is just [that] we are going to do this.”

That’s the message she repeats when she asks people for donations, she said.

To join the team, donate or sponsor a specific walker, go to jimmyfund.org and click on the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk or call 866-531- 9255.

An estimated 9,000 people will compete in the walk this year with the goal of raising $7.5 million. There are four courses: the Hopkinton start, which is 26.2 miles and begins at 5:30 a.m.; the Babson College start, with a 13.1-mile half-marathon that begins at 8:30 a.m.; the Boston College start, which is five miles long and starts at 10 a.m.; and the Dana-Farber, a threemile course that starts at 1:30 p.m. and will include many patients and their families.

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