It took a little planning, but even a global pandemic wasn’t able to stop the annual Heart & Sole Cancer Walk in Mitchell Friday evening.
Organizers and supporters gathered in and around the Corn Palace Plaza for the start of the 23rd annual event, which saw some of the regular staples of the fundraiser for cancer patients suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In their place was a classic car cruise featuring vintage automobiles, trucks and other unique vehicles that drove a loop down Main Street to First Avenue, back up to Lawler and around to Seventh Avenue and back to Main.
It was the first time organizers had used this type of activity to celebrate the benefit, which is usually marked with a live 5K walk and run, live entertainment, food vendors and a large gathering of people from all walks of life coming together to benefit those who have dealt with one of the world’s most deadly diseases.
It was an unfortunate, but necessary, change to take to ensure the safety of everyone who wanted to participate, said Darcy Sabers, chair of the Heart & Sole Cancer Walk committee.
“We held to the city’s recommendation and did it for the people who we’re raising the money for, the ones that can’t come out and enjoy it and see all this support if we had held the normal event,” said Sabers. “So this is for them to be able to just stay in their car and be able to see how many people are here to support them.”
The streets were busy during the event, with cars and trucks of a wide range of vintages slowly making their way around the planned loop. Motorcycles, off-road vehicles and scooters could also be found peppered throughout the lineup. Many were adorned with signs in support of cancer survivors or those who have died from the disease, and even more were filled with friendly faces offering waves to friends and strangers in the crowd alike.
The cruise was held on the original date the traditional 5K run and walk is held at Mitchell Middle School. While the live walk was canceled for this year in order to help promote social distancing guidelines, participants were encouraged to take part in a virtual 5K walk or run and to post their experiences online.
Sabers said it appears there has been a good response to the virtual walk, although it is hard to keep track of the participants when they are not all on the same track. Still, she has seen some families and groups of friends or coworkers walking together online, determined to still get a taste of that community spirit.
“Everything is virtual. It’s been interesting, because there isn’t any real way to track them, so they’ve been sending in pictures and uploading things to Facebook, and that was really the only way to do it,” Sabers said. “But there were some groups who got together and did theirs for their grandma or mom or whomsoever. It’s been interesting to see how they still come together and still do their thing.”
Luminaries could also be purchased for loved ones in the fight against cancer. The banners bearing those names were on display in the plaza Friday night and will remain on display through the end of the month so that those people who may not have felt comfortable coming out in the crowd Friday night could still stop by and see them for themselves.
Sabers said while COVID-19 did force organizers to change their regular plans for the event, the fundraiser is too important to not hold. The event has brought in thousands of dollars to help hundreds of cancer patients over the years, and the night of the event usually sees some of the year’s biggest donations to the group.
“Tonight is usually a big donation night,” Sabers said. “We have over 500 people we’ve helped, and that’s close to $500,000 we’ve given out (over the last nine years).”
Despite the change in procedure, Sabers said the crowd that took part was in good spirits and the weather was mild and welcoming for people willing to head out for an evening on Main Street. The cruise format allowed those who support the Heart & Sole Cancer Walk to come together on a summer night, but hopefully they can return next year to the traditional activities that make the event special, both for those fighting the disease and those supporting them in that fight.
“We really like the camaraderie of (the live walk) and getting people together, seeing the families there and the big groups there. It’s nice to see that,” Sabers said.
Sabers and other volunteers with Heart & Sole continued to greet cruisers and talk with visitors on the street throughout the event Friday, happily receiving donations and words of encouragement from supporters. She said even though this year’s event has had a different feel to it, the spirit, understanding and generosity of the community still shines through.
“Everybody has been very supportive,” Sabers said.