Tour of Anchorage Ski Race Helps Team Raise Cancer Awareness
Local man who died of leukemia’s presence still felt on course
ANCHORAGE - Sunday afternoon, hundreds of skiers cut down the trail around Westchester Lagoon, packed snow crunching softly under narrow skis.
The annual Tour of Anchorage offered 25, 40 and 50 kilometer races from Hillside to Downtown to Kincaid Park, and the sky was blue as athletes of all ages made their ways through the municipality’s trail system. Small tables set up along the trail offered water, snacks and encouragement.
“We’re just here for whatever they need,” said Virginia Gill, standing alongside one of those tables set up on the trail near the north side of the lagoon. “Safety pins, cupcakes, hugs.”
She trailed off, laughing. The other women at the table were dressed in oversized costume hats and plastic leis, cheering on passing racers with painted cowbells and signs, but Gill was armed only with a large pair of green and blue pom-poms.
Together, they represented the cheering section of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training, a nationwide organization dedicated to raising money for cancer research. The 33 team members competing Sunday wore purple to mark their affiliation, and Gill was bundled up against the sub-freezing temperatures in a down jacket of the same color.
The four women shouted encouragements and waved signs, bells and pom-poms at the skiers passing by. In front of the table, a hand-drawn poster was stuck to a dowel with purple masking team and planted in a snow bank across from a set of dingy gray port-o-potties.
“Bill says… hydrate now, and forever hold your pee,” read a caption scrawled across the top.
The sign featured a simply drawn stick figure, and Gill said she first made one several years ago while preparing to cheer on the Team In Training at the summer Mayor’s Marathon.
“We put up posters all over the race course,” she said, reminiscing. “Just silly comments about marathon training or cancer, whatever, and they became such a hit they became a tradition.”
Gill said she made nearly 400 signs the first summer.
A few yards down the trail sat another: “Bill says… are we almost there yet?”
Her eyes filled with tears behind her black-rimmed glasses. “Sometimes I can look and I can laugh,” she said, voice breaking briefly. “Other times, I’m just, like, I wish he was here.”
It’s been nearly two years since her husband, Bill Gill, lost a decade-long battle with a rare, incurable form of leukemia. She said he was an avid runner before he became too ill to exercise, and a staunch supporter of research efforts throughout the course of his sickness.
Gill said the lagoon itself reminded her of her late husband: They often trained along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail together.
“It got to the point where we would come, and he could only walk a little bit, and then we would come and just sit in the car and watch the people,” she said softly. ”And then when he was too sick to even make it from our condo to here… It’s a painfully wonderful place to come, because he’s here but he’s not.”