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Taking steps to fight cancer in half-marathon

VIRGINIA BEACH

They came in all sizes, shapes and colors to walk 13.1 miles for the American Cancer Society.

About 20 walkers lined up for the second Yeah Buddy Half-Marathon at Williams Farm Park on Nov. 16. Most are members of the Tidewater Striders walking division.

"It's a very giving group," said Bill Spruill, 79, "a great bunch of people who provide camaraderie, support and sympathy."

"It's the friendship more than the activity," added the retired federal judge, a three-time Boston Marathon veteran.

Every Saturday morning around sunrise, the group meets at Mount Trashmore to train and share. Cancer has touched many of their lives.

Steve Shapiro, 59, and Hartley Dewey, 66, are cancer survivors. Jordan "Buddy" Levitin, 80, the race's namesake, lost his daughter Amy to the disease.

In 2012, when Shapiro spotted the now-famous "Yeah Buddy" T-shirts in front of a Boardwalk gift shop, the Yeah Buddy Half-Marathon was born.

Paula Graham, Levitin's walking coach, suggested a casual walk race without bib numbers or timing chips, explaining "this race encourages all walkers regardless of the technique they may be using."

Participants pay no entry fee, but contributions to the American Cancer Society are welcomed. Last year, the event raised more than $700.

Special guests included local running icons Mel Williams, 75, a founding member of the Striders, and Dave McDonald, 56, its president in the 1980s.

Williams, a retired Old Dominion University professor, has run in the U.S. Marine Corps Marathon for the past 38 years.

"He's one of only four people to have run in all 38 Marine Corps Marathons," said Steve Durrant, 74, a retired Marine colonel. "We call them the Ground Pounders."

McDonald, a former University of Pittsburgh trackman, is currently fighting his own battle with cancer.

"It's like training for an ultramarathon," he said. "I've got a great team of doctors behind me, a good regimen going and a goal in sight."

Under his trademark handlebar moustache, McDonald sported a wide smile.

"The biggest thing I learned from cancer was that a negative outlook on life usually gives a negative result," said Shapiro. "Stay positive."

After his cancer surgery, Shapiro posted his best times in the marathon (4:48) and half marathon (2:08).

For the entire race, Virginia Davis walked, talked and waved in step with accomplished marathoners Susan Hagel and Lori Sherwood.

Hagel recently qualified for her fifth Boston Marathon. Sherwood is on a quest to run a marathon in all 50 states. So far, she's finished the 26.2 mile race in 36 states.

"The walkers are just the most wonderful, most eclectic group you'd ever want to meet," said Davis. "We all come together so perfectly."

Tom Gerhardt won the men's category with a time of 2:34:27. He can walk faster than most can run - and a lot farther, too.

Last year, Gerhardt raced in an Uncle Sam costume.

Maureen Ventrice captured the ladies' title with a time of 2:43:41. She hardly broke a sweat.

Afterward, they celebrated life at Shorebreak Pizza & Taphouse. Everyone was a winner.

"When you get up and say it's going to be a good day or a bad day, odds are you're probably going to be right," explained Durrant. "I like going with the good days."

For more information about the training group, visit www.tidewaterstriders.com or email bulletnews@live.com.

Gary Ruegsegger, gruegseg@gmail.com

Posted to: Community News Virginia Beach Virginia Beach Community

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