Relay For Life Of Thurston County Inspires Hope

relay for life thurston county
Sam Reed will participate again this year in the Thurston County Relay for Life event.


By Tom Rohrer

oly ortho logoLike very few things on earth, cancer is something that connects and affects all humans.  It is likely that every person you know has been affected in some way by cancer.

On Friday, June 21, the South Puget Sound community came together in an effort to raise funds against the debilitating disease The 24th annual Relay for Life of Thurston County was held at the Timberline High School track in Lacey.

Thanks to the overwhelming support and strong work ethic of event coordinators and volunteers, the local Relay for Life has become one of the top 100 fundraisers of its kind in the entire country.

relay for life thurston countyA fundraiser for the American Cancer Society aimed at raising money for research and treatment against the disease, local teams and participants march (in some capacity) around the THS track for 24 hours.

This year’s event was kicked off at 6 p.m. Friday with a Survivor Walk, led by courageous individuals, both young and old, who were fortunate enough to overcome the diseases grasp.

Though connected by an unfortunate disease, the community was in high spirits at the event, as hugs, smiles and laughs were more common than not.

“It’s so powerful to see over 1,000 relayers registered, and a twenty percent increase in the fundraiser,” said Shelley Sprouffske, who, along with her husband Jonathan, was a part of the top fundraising team at the event. “It’s great to be a part of this entire group.”

relay for life thurston county
Sandee Mills, a member of the Laps for Life team participating in the 2013 Thurston County Relay For Life event at Timberline High School, is joined by her nephews and nieces in front of the teams booth. It is the 14th consecutive year the team has participated in the event.

The Relay for Life of Thurston County will end up raising the second highest amount of money (only behind Pierce County) of any Relay for Life event in the state, a testament to the community’s ability to come together for a worthy cause.

“It’s just grown and grown,” said Sandee Mills, who lost her mother to cancer in 1987 and is a member of the Laps for Life Team, which has been involved in the event for the last fourteen years. “I feel like there is more energy every new year as this keeps growing.”

Mills noted the positive energy of a team that was in the booth right next to hers, a team that raised the second highest amount of any involved.

In 2011, Sonny and Tami Philamalee’s son Cameron passed away due to complications stemming from cancer. Cameron, a Timberline High School graduate and a track and field athlete, inspired “Team Cameron Forever” which is headed by Sonny, Tami and their other son Aric.   The positive spirit of Cameron, who was 24 when he passed away, is still found in his parents as they continue to push forward.

“You can’t stop a compelled mom,” said Tami Philamalee said. “It’s something that continues to keep his spirit alive. He was such a party, ‘get together with friend’s’ type of guy.  This is Cameron’s school, he loved this track.  He was always smiling and happy here.  We just want to keep his spirit, that energy alive and moving forward.”

relay for life thurston county
Tami, Sonny (white shirt) and Aric Philamalee stand in front of the “Team Cameron Forever” team booth at the 2013 Thurston County Relay For Life event at Timberline High School. Cameron Philamalee, lost a battle with cancer at the age of 24.

“We had a pasta feed fundraiser and raised $7,100…for a pasta feed,” said Sonny Philamalee.  “We had to turn people and businesses away that wanted to help.  That shows what this community is about.”

As part of the event’s opening ceremonies, the American Cancer Society brought in one of its funded researchers, Dr. Matt Shortridge of the University of Washington.  The Lincoln Nebraska native spoke to the crowd about his research, which is made entirely possible from events such as Relay for Life, and is thankful for their support and dedication.

“This is very empowering and very moving to see the hard work behind this,” said Shortridge, who was joined by his three sisters who are vacationing away from Nebraska in the Pacific Northwest.  “It’s the least I can do. Seeing these type of events, it makes those late nights worth it.  You see all the hard work and hope people are giving out and it just makes you want to work even harder.”

Also part of the opening ceremony was recognition of Olympia High School baseball coach Todd McDougall, who is currently undergoing treatment to combat brain cancer.  McDougall started the Survivor Lap off, as the crowd lined the sides of the track to cheer on those they came to support.

It was hard not to get emotional at the scene, but the positive atmosphere gave off the vibe of hope, which will be the main driving force in the fight against this disease.

“It’s a way to honor people, whether you’re a survivor, they’re a survivor or not,” said Mills. “They’re not many events like this and it’s great that people can come together as one group.”

“I would say just being here, it’s awesomely profound,” Tami Philamalee said.  “That’s all I can say to describe it.”

The Relay For Life of Thurston County will continue until 6 p.m. Saturday night at Timberline High School.  More photos can be found here.


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