Handing out medals and sharing hugs and tears at the finish line of the LoCo Motion breast cancer walk Sunday had a special meaning for Laura Morgan.
It was her birthday.
Morgan, creator of LoCo Motion Weekend and the charity it supports, Carolina Cups, turned 45 Sunday, which coincided with the final day of the three-day event. Friends participating in the breast cancer awareness walk gave her a tiara as a gift at a party after the walk ended. Morgan said she "couldn't think of anywhere else she'd rather spend her birthday."
On Sunday, she was out on the beach at the Omni Resort and Hotel on Hilton Head Island, greeting participants as they crossed the finish line. Over 700 people participated, up almost 100 from the 2012 event. Half of them weren't from the area, and about half were newcomers, Morgan said.
Over 250 participants did all three legs of the walk, totaling 30 miles over the weekend. Two of the segments were on Hilton Head and one on Callawassie Island, which decorated the neighborhood pink
Forty of the walkers were breast cancer survivors, among them Amy Key of Hilton Head. Key said a friend and fellow breast cancer survivor, Donna Myers, got her to join the event.
"It was very emotional, but it was a great experience," she said.
Key and her family, including her mother and fellow breast cancer survivor Susan Key, made up the Georgia Jugs team walking for the first time. The team name clicked soon after signing up, Key said, as a way to highlight her Georgia roots.
A number of teams walked this weekend. The largest -- 49 members -- was made up of Coastal States Bank employees.
Coastal States Bank president Jim MacLeod said breast cancer awareness was a very personal issue to the bank's staff. Four of the 55 employees are breast cancer survivors. MacLeod also said his daughter is a breast cancer survivor.
"The guts they have to fight this disease and keep coming to work is amazing," he said. "The aches I feel from walking 30 miles is just a fraction of what they've fought through to get healthy."
MacLeod led a teary-eyed champagne toast and a round of thunderous applause for the breast cancer survivors who attended.
Carol Sentell of Hilton Head walked in the name of friends and family who have battled the disease. Sentell said a close relative and a neighbor were just two of the people she honored by walking 30 miles for the second year in a row.
"The experience is awesome," she said. "You meet new friends, swap stories, and push each other on. I can't explain it."
'THE RIGHT THING'
Morgan began building the event and the charity in 2009, holding the first LoCo Motion weekend in 2011. She had participated in the national breast cancer awareness events, but wanted to create a more accessible local event.
"To participate in the national walk, you have to raise $3,000 and walk 20 miles a day," she said. "I cut the number of miles in half and got rid of the fundraising requirement to try and make it more accessible."
Money raised this weekend goes to Carolina Cups, which donates it to Beaufort Memorial Hospital and other local non-profit breast cancer organizations. Morgan said about 85 percent of money raised stays in the area. The event raised over $50,000 in 2012. This year's totals have not been calculated yet.
For Morgan, opting to raise money for breast cancer awareness was an easy choice.
"It's not terribly personal to me, but breast cancer has touched so many people," she said. "It's just the right thing to do."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.