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Runner beats the odds

Man’s legs give out; energy of others kicks in at Relay for Life

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Chuck Westfahl beat the odds and made good on a $2,300 promise Saturday, although things didn't go exactly as he had planned.

Westfahl, 57, was participating in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, an 18-hour, 50-mile relay aimed at raising funds for cancer awareness and research. Most people, however, run to raise funds as teams.

But not Westfahl. The one-man team raised more money than any of the groups — $2,306 — by promising donors he would walk the entire 50 miles without stopping. After his 26th mile, Westfahl said he "could really feel" the strain on his legs, but he pushed on. At the 40th mile mark, with the end almost in sight, Westfahl's legs and feet gave out.

"My legs are 99, and the rest of me is 57," Westfahl joked.

Thinking it was over, Westfahl retired to his campsite for some much-needed rest. "I slept for about an hour, then they came and woke me up, and I couldn't believe what they were saying."

Westfahl's commitment and dedication had so impressed his fellow participants that while he slept they were making plans to help him achieve his goal.

Teresa and Randy Olsen, who had just met Westfahl the night before, arranged to borrow a flatbed dolly from a nearby Costco that could be used to push the injured man to his final goal.

"I was just so impressed with his dedication," Teresa Olsen said. "We all wanted to make sure he kept his promise."

Westfahl quickly returned to the relay in comfort, as Teresa Olsen had furnished the dolly with cushions from her camper and others had fashioned a cooler and fan to constantly mist Westfahl with water.

Volunteers, most of whom had already completed their miles, took turns pushing Westfahl around the Copper Hills High School track.

"There's people out here that are dead and couldn't run another lap if their life depended on it, but they're out here taking a turn pushing, too," said relay participant Sue Lister, who had already run 14 miles of her own.

As Rachel Kemp took her turn with Westfahl, he kept asking where she got her energy. "It's you. We're getting it from you," Kemp answered.

Many of the children even took their turns with the unusual carriage. Eleven-year-old James Foote pushed Westfahl almost four miles during the two-hour drive.

"Everybody was saying he needs help, and we just started pushing him," Foote said. "He's really thanking us."

Amity Nelson of the American Cancer Society said helping Westfahl achieve his goal unified relay participants. "Everyone's been really conscientious about it."

With only one lap to go, volunteers stopped the dolly and Westfahl led a cheering crowd around the track to realize his 50-mile goal. High fives, hand shakes and pats on the back were plentiful as Westfahl modestly accepted participants' praise.

"It's just fun to be part of it," Westfahl said. "I don't feel like I've done anything special."

But Chelene Fortier, communications specialist for the American Cancer Society, said Westfahl's goal was special. "That's a lot of commitment. That just shows a huge dedication to the American Cancer Society."

Saturday's relay resulted in a gross contribution of nearly $30,000 to the group's research and awareness programs.

Westfahl said he will return to the Relay for Life next year, but with one slight change. "Oh yeah, I'll be here next year. But probably with a team."

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com