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Pushing Ahead

Walking to Washington in memory of a friend.

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The wheelchair he'll push belonged to Charlie Craig. He died of bladder cancer in February 2001, just a few days before his 42nd birthday. Craig and his family still mourn the man they describe as warmhearted, well loved and also active in basketball and karate, despite being paralyzed from the waist down from the birth condition spina bifida. An ardent fan of the Redskins and the Joe Gibbs NASCAR racing team, each year he assembled a group of friends to go to races with him. "If he wanted to do something, nothing would have stopped him," Craig says.

It's in that spirit that Craig and his companions plan to make their journey. Their destination is the annual Celebration on the Hill, a two-day convocation of cancer survivors and advocates organized by the American Cancer Society. "It's to empower our survivors to become more of a political force in the fight against cancer," Craig explains.

The chairman of two area Relay for Life fund-raisers for the ACS, Craig was chosen to be one of Virginia's four Relay Community Ambassadors to the event. There, he'll join 3,000 other ambassadors and meet with legislators to push for funding for cancer research.

Granted, Craig says, this year Congress has been inundated with requests for money, from all kinds of groups. "We do not advocate saying we are better," he says in a matter-of-fact tone. "Or we need it more."

But, he says, he wishes the generosity that flooded forth after Sept. 11 would be extended to help fight another, omnipresent, national tragedy. "Cancer, every three days, takes over 3,000 lives" in the United States, Craig says — the same toll as the Twin Towers falling, over and over again.

"I wouldn't want anybody else to go through what our family went through," he says. That is the concept at the heart of his endeavor.

"At first we were going to bike," Craig says. "Then I started thinking about my brother." If Charlie Craig were in the same position, he says, his brother would be making the trek, too. "He didn't walk. But he'd be in his wheelchair doing it."

The journey won't be a contemplative stroll. Craig plans to walk 15 hours the first day, from the border of Richmond and Henrico County to Fredericksburg. The State Police prohibited traveling through the night, he says, so he's trying to get as far as he can during the first day to ensure the group will make it to the capital by the 18th.

The group, which will number six on the first day, then four for the remainder of the walk, is well-supported, Craig says. A friend will follow them in a truck, while a van, lent by the Whitten Brothers car dealership, will meet the walkers at their stopping point each day with supplies. Outback Steakhouse and Ukrop's offered to provide the walkers with food, Craig says, and New Balance gave them walking shoes.

Even with the gifts, it'll be no easy hike. Craig says sore feet don't concern him, though. Instead, he'll be thinking about his brother, he says, and concentrating on containing his emotions. "I think that's gonna be the hardest part."

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