WELLSBURG - Thirty-five-year-old Michelle Huffman, a New Cumberland resident and Wellsburg business owner, lost a recurring battle against cancer, but her spirit inspired a walk that has helped a local boy in his own fight against the disease.
Nearly 200 area residents turned out Sunday to run or walk in the 3-mile event, with many others coming to show their support and raising money, through registration fees and sales of food and other items, for the family of 11-year-old Austin Powell.
The son of Chris and Jamie Powell of Colliers and a sixth-grader at Follansbee Middle School, Austin is undergoing experimental chemotherapy to remove his third brain tumor.
GETTING STARTED — Rob Hilt, with megaphone, introduced participants in Sunday’s Michelle’s Miles for Smiles benefit walk to 11-year-old Austin Powell of Colliers, who will receive financial help in his battle against brain cancer through the benefit. The event was held in memory of Michelle Huffman, who inspired it prior to her death from cancer earlier this year. To Hilt’s right is Michelle Bohandy of the Hands of the Master puppet troupe from Barnesville First Baptist Church, which provided entertainment.
He was diagnosed in 2004 with ependymoma, a rare recurring form of the disease, and has undergone surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Despite his condition, Austin is like many boys in his love for video games. While organizers arranged for a golf cart to transport him along the race's route, he asked to walk part of it.
His mother, Jamie, said upon learning the family was chosen to receive proceeds from the walk, "We were very surprised but very thankful as well."
Rob Hilt, the event's coordinator, said he hopes the event will become an annual one, with proceeds going to various area children with cancer.
Hilt led volunteers last year in holding a walk to raise money for Huffman, who, with her husband Alan, co-owned a Mexican restaurant in Wellsburg, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time.
As she had done in her home city of San Diego, Michelle spoke at events sponsored by the American Cancer Society and was a strong advocate for early detection in fighting breast cancer.
Many who attended such events or visited the restaurant recall the bright pink wig she cheerfully donned after losing her hair during radiation therapy. When asked about her new hair coloring, she noted it's the color used to promote breast cancer awareness.
Michelle died in July, but Hilt and others wanted to carry on her memory and spirit.
Losing Michelle hasn't been easy for Alan, of course, but he donned a large, curly pink wig for Sunday's event and brought along their pet dog.
As sunshine and a bright blue sky shined on the Wellsburg Town Square, he said, "It's a beautiful day and a great turnout. You couldn't ask for a better day. She (Michelle) is smiling down on us."
Children were entertained by the Hands of the Master puppet troupe from the First Baptist Church of Barnesville and games conducted by students in the Brooke High School preschool program under the direction of teacher Kathryn Young.
Hilt thanked the students, his co-worker Michelle Bohandy and other members of the puppet troupe and the volunteers, businesses and groups who supported the event.
Food was donated or sold, with a portion of proceeds going to the walk, by the BBQ House, Pizza Hut and Eat 'n' Park, and Aladdin Signs donated banners.
Brooke Hills Park and its manager, Janice McFadden, supplied the golf cart for Powell, lent tables and chairs for the registration and more than $500 in gift certificates for drawings held for the cause.
Advance Auto Parts allowed organizers to hold a car wash to raise funds for the event, and Kim Reyer, a vendor at the Wellsburg Applefest, sold cupcakes for the cause.