There were hugs, high-fives and many stories of hope as hundreds gathered Saturday, May 18, for the Wheatlake Festival of Races to support the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center in Reed City.

The Wheatlake Festival of Races started in 2006 and has grown to include a half marathon, a 10K race, a 5K race, a 5K walk and a kids dash. A total of 378 racers and walkers participated. Race results can be found here.

“It was a great turnout and such a special morning,” event organizer Danielle Wells said. “The Festival of Races is like a big community hug, where people come out and support one another. We raise needed funds for the center, but we also raise spirits and awareness.”

The weather even cooperated. It rained in the early morning hours, but the weather cleared before the races began.

“We do a special no-rain dance, and it worked,” Susan Wheatlake said, smiling.

Sixth-grader Olivia Beauchamp ran in memory of her great aunt Marie Dahlerup and to support her grandmother, Kathy Dettmer. Dahlerup passed away in October from lung cancer that spread to her liver. Race day was the seven-month anniversary of her passing.

“Aunt Marie will be with you then,” Olivia’s mother, Sarah, told her before the race.

Olivia’s grandmother, Dettmer, has been cancer-free for a year and a half after undergoing treatment at the Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center. She had a lumpectomy and radiation, and Sarah has been so thankful for the care her mother received.

“It’s just amazing,” she said.

An aspiring young runner, Olivia, 11, wrote the names of her great aunt and grandmother on the back of her race shirt.

“I hope she doesn’t get cancer again, and if she does, that she’ll get treated,” Olivia said.

Olivia placed third in her age group. “I’m happy I did it,” she said. “It was fun.”

Pam Marvel and Angie Howard ran the 10K to encourage Cassie Smith, a 33-year-old friend from Stanwood, Michigan, who was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer just six weeks ago. Smith is engaged to Josh England and the couple will be married June 28. Her bridal shower was the same day as the race.

“She’s very positive, she has a good outlook,” Marvel said. “She wasn’t going to stop the engagement or the wedding. She’s a hard-working mom who is dedicated to her kids.”

Howard has been best friends with Smith since fourth grade. “It has never hit this close to home,” Howard said.

Team Brooks was back at the event—in force. Canadian Lakes resident Shelly Brooks is fighting advanced cervical cancer and walked in the event last year. She set a goal this year of doubling the size of her racing team, and she did as 29 walkers joined her compared to 14 last year. Brooks’ husband and 12 other men went golfing in Canadian Lakes the same morning to also raise money for the cancer center.

Brooks has been a vocal supporter of the cancer center, which serves 12 Northern Michigan counties as a comprehensive regional treatment facility.

“From the minute I stepped in the doors, everyone was so kind and helpful,” she said previously. “The Wellness Center was wonderful. I received free massages and acupuncture, and was able to rent out several helpful cookbooks from the resource library.”

Numerous Spectrum Health employees and volunteers were on hand for the festival of races, many of them running or walking.

Spectrum Health System chief operating officer Brian Brasser set a goal to run a race in each of Spectrum Health’s markets this year.

“The opportunity to support a comprehensive cancer center makes it easy to get up in the morning for an event like this,” he said.

Andrea Leslie, president of Spectrum Health United, Kelsey, Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals, handed out medals to participants as they crossed the finish line.

“It’s a great event,” she said. “There’s lots of great community support.”

Alongside Leslie at the finish, Wheatlake enthusiastically cheered on the runners as they finished the event that supports the cancer center that bears her name.

Wheatlake credited Spectrum Health with developing the cancer center.

“It’s not me,” she said. “Maybe, in a way, I was the idea behind some of it, but this in no way could have happened if Spectrum wasn’t behind this vision.”