Newcastle cops hit the ground running for cancer research

May 6, 2011

By Tim Pfarr

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UPDATED — 5 p.m. May 6, 2011

Newcastle cops don’t sit around eating doughnuts, and Police Chief Melinda Irvine and officer Steve Kajihiro can attest to that.

This spring, Irvine and Kajihiro teamed up with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training to get in peak physical condition while raising money for cancer research.

Irvine — who completed two ironman triathlons and a half-ironman triathlon in the last three years — is mentoring athletes aspiring to compete in half-ironman triathlons this year. She is aiming to raise $4,000 this year to add to the more than $10,000 she raised training for the half-ironman triathlon.

Contributed Newcastle Police Chief Melinda Irvine runs in the Baker Lake 50K run in Baker Lake in October 2010.

As of Newcastle News’ deadline May 3, Irvine had raised $1,500.

Kajihiro — who competed in the Seattle Half Marathon in November 2010 and the Honolulu Marathon in December 2010 — is training to compete in the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon and the Seattle Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon, both in June.

The San Diego marathon will benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and the Seattle marathon will benefit the American Cancer Society.

His goal is to raise $3,000 for cancer research. As of Newcastle News’ deadline, he had raised $1,870.

Seattle-based Turnpike Pizza donated $50 to Kajihiro and three other athletes for their tremendous spirit.*


Irvine the ironwoman

Irvine said her inspiration in 2008 came from fellow Newcastle Police offer Jerry Gilley’s 27-year-old daughter, Holly, who was battling leukemia at the time. Her cancer went into remission, but months after the event, Holly’s cancer returned. She died that fall.

Irvine said she also has numerous friends and colleagues who have battled cancer.

“Sadly, I think everybody can reach out and touch several people” who have battled cancer, she said. “There are so many people around you when you start counting.”

She said mentoring this year was a great way to continue fundraising.

“Ever since I did it (in 2008), I wanted to come back and mentor and give back to Team in Training,” she said. “I knew how much my mentors helped me.”

Her practices this spring are six days per week, with hour-and-a-half training on weeknights and three-to-five-hour training on Saturdays. Training is different every day, with swimming, biking, running and combinations of the three.

Irvine said there are many aches and pains involved with such intense training, and although there can be a lot of discomfort, it’s all worth it.

“It’s a great feeling, because every practice they do what they call mission moments. Usually somebody talks about how they have been affected by cancer,” she said. “Every time, we get a reminder of the importance of what we’re doing to raise the money.”

Gilley said his colleagues’ efforts are touching.

“I think that it is cool that my friends and co-workers help to bring awareness to look for a cure for the many horrible diseases that many of our loved ones suffer from,” he said. “I appreciate their dedication.”


Kajihiro the marathon man

Kajihiro — who took the nickname “Danger” from his friends — said he began distance running for the first time in August 2010. He ran his first two endurance events in honor of a friend who was born with spina bifida — in which vertebrae are not fully formed — and has been forced to use a wheelchair his entire life.

“The reality is, my gift of walking can be taken away from me at any second,” Kajihiro wrote on his fundraising website. “My life can end in a second or I could get diagnosed with cancer, so why not live life to the fullest, have fun, be happy and use the gifts that were given to us to help others?”

Kajihiro said he learned about Team in Training from Irvine, and he was impressed with what he heard about the program and what he found when he began looking into it himself.

“After doing those marathons, I thought, ‘If I’m going to do these, I might as well do it for a good cause,’” Kajihiro said.

To prepare for the upcoming events, Kajihiro goes on runs with others from Team in Training three nights per week. On Tuesdays, they run near Green Lake in Seattle; on Thursdays, they run in Mill Creek; and on Saturdays, they run at various locations in Seattle. With each workout, they increase the distance slightly. Heading into May, the group is up to 18-mile runs.

Kajihiro’s training has also had an element of recovery — he suffered a tendon injury in his right foot after 16 miles in the Honolulu Marathon, and he limped the final 10 miles to cross the finish line. Although his foot caused him pain early in his training, it has fully healed.

However, Kajihiro said training and fundraising with Team in Training has been a fantastic experience, and that he is already considering doing it again in the future.

For those who want to become distance runners, he said both mental and physical preparation is important.

“You need to believe in yourself and never give up,” he said. “Have confidence in yourself.”

* This story contains corrected information.

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