Friday, June 22, 2012
By EMILY GIANETTI
Teenagers pulling all-nighters may be common these days, but walking 45 miles in 24 hours is a little more rare. But that’s exactly what four 14-year-old Canfield students did June 1-2 as part of the Austintown Relay for Life.
Canfield Village Middle School grads Gillian Jennings, Theresa Mikolay, Francine Hazy and Maddy Urig became the youngest 24-hour walkers to ever participate in the Austintown Relay when they walked to honor CVMS eighth-grade history teacher Ken Reel.
“I never had him, but I still looked up to him,” said Urig. “He was one of the best role models in the entire school.”
These students walked for Reel, who, after 44 years of teaching, was diagnosed with lymphoma in February. An outpouring of support immediately followed his diagnosis – cards, notes, pictures from the eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C. – all found their way to him. Then, students made Team Reel shirts and decided to walk for him in the Relay for Life.
“We tried to keep him happy,” said Urig. “We tried to offer encouragement more than get-well cards. I was scared that he would be forgotten.”
“We wanted him to feel like he was still present at the school,” noted Jennings.
Eventually, 450 Team Reel shirts were sold to not only eighth-graders, but to the entire school district. The good deeds began with just a few people, but as Jennings put it, “it ended with a community coming together.”
Jennings then had the idea to walk 24 hours in the Relay instead of just a few. Urig, whose family members have done the same thing, joined in, and Hazy and Mikolay completed the team.
The first few hours of the event were fun, but when the sun set, the girls began to feel the effects of what would be a very long walk. Early morning hours were the hardest, because the music and large crowds were no longer there. The few people who showed up through the night kept the girls going until the sun came up at 7 a.m.
“It was a new challenge I wanted to face,” said Mikolay of the event. “It was a lot harder than I expected and was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It made me realize all the pain a cancer patient has to go through 24 hours a day.”
The girls got a lot of support along the way from family and friends. They also had another source of motivation – Reel, who was at the event.
“That just helped you know what you were fighting for,” said Hazy. “We were exhausted in the end, but it was worth it.”