The women of the Bluffton Firefighters Auxiliary were chatting one day when they realized they had something in common other than their ties to the fire department -- cancer.
Like many Americans, they've been affected by the disease in some way -- whether it be by having a friend or family member with a diagnosis or by losing a loved one to it -- and they wanted to do something.
That's why for the better part of the past year, the auxiliary members have dedicated themselves to a project they hope will bring lots of money and awareness to the cause: the first Lowcountry Rockin' the Pink Breast Cancer Walk, which will benefit the local affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The three-mile walk will take place Saturday morning in Bluffton.
Auxiliary president Lynn Wiltse, wife of Deputy Fire Marshal Daniel Wiltse, is leading a team of volunteers for the walk and has spent hours organizing everything from sponsors to silent auction donations to registration events.
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"We call this our second job," Wiltse said of the time the volunteers have put in.
On top of jobs, family obligations and school, many of the auxiliary members have spent upward of 20 hours a week getting ready for the walk. But, they say, it's been worth the effort.
"How can you not get involved? I grew up wanting to be able to help others and give back," Wiltse said.
Fellow walk organizers Leslie Jones Hart and Lisa Cramer signed up for precisely that reason.
Cramer, who goes to school and works full time, said she knew she could make the time for this cause.
"My husband, Capt. Allen Cramer, was diagnosed with stomach cancer two years ago," she said. "It is not an individual disease, but one that affects families, friends and communities."
Jones Hart, whose son Brian is a Bluffton firefighter, has been involved in the fight against cancer for a long time. Her children attended school with Susan G. Komen's children in Peoria, Ill., making the Bluffton walk all the more relevant for her.
"Living so close to Susan G. Komen, I had 27 years of Race for the Cure. I was involved when it was an all-women's walk with 30,000 people. It was something I was always a part of, and both of my parents had cancer and my brother-in-law died from the disease."
Firefighter Terry Alcock is the honorary chairman of the walk. Alcock recently learned he is cancer-free after being treated for colon and liver cancer.
"He is a great local inspiration," Wiltse said.
Wiltse, Cramer and Jones Hart have spent the past few weeks organizing registration events and securing sponsors across the county. Wiltse said the the community and local businesses have been supportive and generous.
"We cut sponsorship off a month ago, and people are still calling," she said. "We never turn away money, walkers or volunteers."
The walk is presented by Hilton Head Hospital and so far, the team has lined up more than 17 sponsors.
"People love that we are doing this and everyone has a story," Cramer said.
The auxiliary is aiming for 1,000 walkers to come out Saturday and so far around 200 have registered. The group will be registering walkers until the start of the race.
"We have learned that many people wait (until the last minute) or sign up the day of the event," Wiltse said.
On Saturday, the Bluffton High School cheerleaders will entertain the crowd and there will be food and games for children and adults.
"We want to make it fun and turn it into a celebration, where walkers walk and stay afterward," Jones Hart said. "We are working on getting the local high school bands to perform. There will be a silent auction with holiday weekend getaways and massive gift cards. We will have pink T-shirts and even lunch on-site. We hope everyone will bring their wallet."