Area families team together to run relay in honor of loved ones

By Jamie Ausk Crisafulli
Yellowstone Newspapers 

When twin sisters Bekki Franks and Brandi Ollerman decided to take on the grueling Hood to Coast Relay it was for one reason only, to honor their mother, Connie Balcer, who lost her battle with cancer in 2010. The Dawson County High School alumnae are part of Soul to Sole, a team of individuals dedicating their efforts in the 2013 Hood to Coast Relay to two family members they lost to cancer recently.

Family members of Connie Balcer of Glendive and Darwin Strobel of Fallon have joined forces to run the relay, which is a fund raiser for the American Cancer Society.
This year, the relay raised $634,000 for the American Cancer Society.
Connie lost the battle on Jan. 2, 2010 to lung cancer after being in remission for breast cancer for 10 years. Darwin fought Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma for nine years enduring high dose chemo and a stem cell transplant to be diagnosed with leukemia as a side effect. He lost his battle just over two months ago, on Sept. 12.
Gathering the team Darwin’s daughter, Chantelle Thomas, thought of the idea to form the team during her dad’s time in hospice, when her cousin Kelly and his wife were visiting the family.
“I don’t know what made me think of it at the time, but I just said, “Let’s do the Hood to Coast Relay together for dad. You will love it, and it will be very special for us all to do it together,” Thomas said in an e-mail.
At that time she was only thinking of members of her family, and trying to come up with enough people to make the team a possibility.
When Glendive residents Terry and Cathy Lobdell, good friends of Thomas’ parents, visited, Thomas came up with the idea to include family of Cathy’s sister Connie.
After a few phone calls and emails, Thomas had her team.
Team members include Franks (Glendive), Ollerman (Dickinson, N.D.), Kelly and Sheila Strobel (Darwin’s nephew/niece - Billings), Dan and Chantelle Thomas (Darwin’s daughter and son-in-law - Hobson), Jill Selman (Connie’s niece – Denver, Colo.), Ashley Nissley (Connie’s niece – Bismarck, N.D.), Raleigh and Anna Strobel (Darwin’s son and daughter-in-law – Parkville, Mo.), and Jess and Christel Winkey (Darwin’s niece/nephew-Maple Valley, Wash.).
This is for real
For two non-runners, like Ollerman and Franks, the commitment to do a relay of this magnitude was a major leap.
“If it wasn’t for mom, there’s no way in hell I’d be doing it,” Franks said.
While Thomas, who ran in the relay previously in 2010 and 2011, filled the sisters in on the relay, they are still trying to wrap their minds around what it will be like and the fact they are going to be participants.
“It didn’t really sink in until Chantelle said she got the registration in,” Franks said.
Many more teams apply than can participate in the relay. Registrations were due in October, and Soul to Sole received confirmation on Nov. 4 that they were chosen to participate in 2013.
Ollerman, who noted that until this fall she hadn’t run since high school physical education class years ago, said they don’t have plans to win the race. However, she said, they will finish.
While a few members of the group may be experienced competitive runners, “they know who they’re running with,” she joked.
The sisters haven’t started a regular training schedule for the race yet. Now, with the challenge of winter conditions, they are looking for other ways to train.
While both sisters are in good shape and exercise often, running is new to them. They hope to gain some ideas from experienced runners. They would also like to get as many of the team members together to run a 5K or 10K in Billings before the race sometime next year.
While the thought of training and actually taking on the race next August is daunting, the idea of doing it together to honor the people they love keeps them focused.
“We are all family members. We are all very, very, very excited to do this all together. It’s so special to all of us,” Ollerman said.
Raising money for a cause
The Hood to Coast Relay, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, is known as “The Mother of All Relay Races.” It is the world’s largest 
and longest relay race, spanning from Mt. Hood through Portland ending at Seaside, Ore.
Present will be around 12,600 (1050 teams of at least eight people) runners, over 4,000 walkers and nearly 3,600 volunteers to cover the 200 miles. To congratulate all participants, the finish line will include a gathering of 25,000 people.
The team hopes to have several other members of the family waiting for them at the finish line. Darwin’s wife Darlene will be there, along with other family members including Connie’s sister Cathy Lobdell, Connie’s husband Les Balcer and son Bobby Balcer.
The team begins running on Aug. 23, 2013, at a time to be determined by individual team member’s times, and will run until they are finished on Aug. 24. Each runner will run three legs in the 200 mile relay completing from 13.6 miles to 19.68 total miles when they finish all three legs.
According to Thomas, the Hood to Coast Relay is put together by a great staff, including Jude Hubber (formerly from Terry) and his wife Felicia Hubber (daughter of Robert Foote, melanoma survivor and Hood to Coast Relay founder and president).
The Soul to Sole team has already received a number of sponsorships from both businesses and individuals. The donations pay for the team’s registration. Any money left over from donations will go to the American Cancer Society, Franks explained.
Anyone who would like to donate to the team can send checks to Chantelle Thomas, PO Box 381, Hobson, MT 59452. Donors will receive a receipt and the donations are tax deductible. 
Sponsorships will also be listed on the team t-shirts.
“We are all so proud of Connie and Darwin and all the others who have fought the fight. We are going to run for them, Soul to Sole, every mile,” Thomas said. “Our fight to the end will be nothing like theirs; but, we will be running in a race that donates every year to the American Cancer Society in hopes of one day finding a cure.”

Published Nov. 28, 2012

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