Local teams gather and walk as one for a great cause


Scott Turner, KP News

Team Vaughn members (from left) Laurie Brown, Brandie Madrid, Kristie Hilley and Heather Nighbor ware all smiles during a recent team meeting at Vaughn Elementary School. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

Three Vaughn Elementary parents and PTA members will lead a team of walkers raising funds for cancer research at this year’s Relay for Life walk-a-thon.

Sisters Brandie Madrid and Kristie Hilley and their friend Laurie Brown have been co-captains of Team Vaughn Elementary for about five years.

They took the reins from their friend Kelly Black who got involved after her father died cancer.

“We decided we wanted to step in and keep her team going,” Hilley, a Lake Holiday resident, recalled. “And we wanted to have some fun at the same time.”

The money raised during the popular relay goes toward cancer research and also things like transportation for patients who need to get to doctor appointments, wigs, “make-over” days and other items “to make patients feel better abut themselves,” Hilley said,

This year’s relay takes place over a 24-hour period starting at 6 p.m., on June 20 at Goodman Middle School.

Teams camp out and spend the night walking, enjoying each other’s company and supporting the cause of fighting cancer, Madrid said.

“The goal is to have someone from your team to be walking the whole night,” she said. “Throughout the night there’s theme laps and music and movies for kids and lots of other activities. This year’s Relay theme is Super Heroes. It’s a serious time, but we always try to make it a fun time, too” she said.

“It’s a celebration of life,” Hilley added.

The Salvation Army brings free soup and hot chocolate in the late night hours, and the Kiwanis provides a free breakfast for all the participants on Saturday morning,

The first lap of the relay is always a Survivors Lap.

Another emotional moment is “the candlelight lap –– the luminaria lap,” Hilley said. “Everybody gets to decorate a luminaria bag and then all the bags line the track.”

The event includes men, women and children and funds go toward research for all types of cancer. All ages are welcome to participate.

According to Nicole Betcher, chair of the Gig Harbor event, the relay was founded 19 years ago by Dr. Gordon Klatt, a Tacoma surgeon.

“It’s really a family friendly event and we have a good time,” she said.

“Team Vaughn has always really stuck out in my mind because they have so much enthusiasm and joy. They get dressed up for just about every lap and they really get the whole school involved, even the kids,” Betcher said.

Betcher lost her grandfather and six of his siblings to cancer. “We want to keep this going until we find the cure,” she said.

Susan O’Leary, principal at Vaughn Elementary, thinks that having children involved is a good thing.

“Cancer has no age limit,” O’Leary said. “It affects anyone. So for kids to be involved in the fundraising aspect is great. And the actual walking –– the physical activity –– and being part of something that’s so profound is very important.”

O’Leary added that a staff member at the school died from cancer last year. “The relay is a huge part of our Key Peninsula community and just about all of our schools are involved in some way.”

Like all the other teams, Team Vaughn Elementary is looking for donations.

The Vaughn PTA –– of which Brown is a co-president ––– brings lunch to the school staff and organizes several family fun nights. “Everything is free, but any proceeds we get go to the relay,” she said.

“You can donate to any team or just to the relay,” Madrid added. “Every little bit helps and the money is really working.”

For information, visit relayforlife.org.