“He was gone too soon.”
These words describe Jason Skaggs, a local cancer victim who passed away one month before his Relay for Life team was set to take on their first laps at the Madison County event in 2012.
The mourning of those who lost their battle with the disease serves as fuel for all of the Madison County relay teams, as they walk to fight back against the disease that has taken loved ones, or almost taken team members.
Though Jason could not be there, his team carried on with his mother at the helm. And it still does to this day.
“That’s what Jason wanted, and we will continue it,” said Cindy Skaggs, Jason’s mother.
The tradition will be continued at this year’s Madison County Relay For Life, slated for Friday, June 19, at West Jefferson High School, 1 Roughrider Drive in West Jefferson. The event will begin at 6 p.m.
For the first time, this year’s event will not last throughout the night. Festivities will wrap up at about 1:30 a.m. early Saturday morning. About 800 to 1,000 people are expected to attend.
Organizers are hoping to raise $101,000 during this year Relay season — surpassing last year’s contribution of $100,000, according to Gina Newsome, one of three organizers of the event.
She said the Madison County Relay is often used as a statewide model.
“It’s because of our team and committee commitments,” she said. “In Madison County, there’s not anyone you can talk to who hasn’t been affected by cancer.”
The Skaggs team, known as Unit 91, is all about family, Skaggs said. Jason’s father, wife, brother, brother and sister-in-law, aunts, uncles and grandparents form the team. Two friends of Jason also walk with the family.
Skaggs laughed about the origins of the name. She said when it came time to decide a name, Jason had no hesitation. The team would be called Unit 91, after his race car. Jason was a dirt-track race car driver.
She said the team frequently gets questions about the name; some inquire as to what firetruck inspired it.
The Luminary Ceremony is always emotional for the family, as they remember the great husband, father and son that was taken from them much too soon.
“Jason was a fun-loving guy,” Skaggs said.
Another Relay team is led by a son, instead of a mother. Joshua Lickliter, an eight-year-old London Elementary School student, felt the need to find a cure after the disease took his mother.
She passed away in January 2014.
Lickliter said that when he found out his mother was sick, he wanted nothing more than to find a cure.
“When I first knew my mom had cancer, I wanted to do anything to stop it,” Lickliter said.
Lori Rinehart, another organizer, said she has never seen a child so motivated to plan, and help others.
“It made us stop and think ‘this is why we do it,’” she said.
Lickliter’s aunt, Anita Adkins, said the boy’s drive to find a cure continued after his mother passed. She said he wants to be a doctor when he grows up.
“He is a very intelligent young man,” Adkins said. “Very smart, very caring.”
But for now, Lickliter’s team Strikin’ Out Cancer hopes to deal the disease some nasty pitches.
Andrea McKinney contributed to this report.
Brandon Semler can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615 or via Twitter @BrandonSemler