The 194-mile Ragner Relay Run Napa Valley from San Francisco to Calistoga is known as a slumber party without pillows.

For Napa native Kendall Gewalt, however, the Ragner Relay carries a much deeper meaning.

Gewalts role in the relay is the Christine A. Geehrer Inspiration in Medicine Award (CAGIM), which will provide a $26,200 grant each year beginning in 2012 to one deserving medical student enrolled in the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. Gewalt is the president and founder of the scholarship.

Team Orange Crushed, of which Gewalt is a proud member, will be raising the bulk of funding for the 2013 scholarship. Last year, Team Orange Crushed finished 11th out of 90 teams at the Lake Tahoe-Reno Odyssey Relay and raised more than $10,000.

Geehrer, who was Gewalts partner for nine years, died in September 2010 from a very aggressive form of lung cancer that strikes nonsmokers non-small cell adenocarcinoma. This cancer, which strikes very quickly, has reached near-epidemic levels in the United States, particularly in young, non-smoking, otherwise healthy women. In fact, Geehrer was unaware she was ill with Stage 4 lung cancer when she was hospitalized with a severe headache. She was diagnosed on her 49th birthday and she passed away one week later.

Christine personified the kind of person who sought out challenges, no matter the degree of difficulty. She met every challenge with courageous determination and joyful abandon, Gewalt said. She was always ready to commit to the rigors of professional sports.

She maintained this discipline all her life and applied it to her daily regimen, despite debilitating physical difficulties including severe asthma, chronic fatigue, bad knees and struggles with her weight. She was an extraordinary, ordinary woman. Best of all, she inspired friends, colleagues and family alike to follow her example of living this life fully and unconditionally, no matter the odds.

Gewalt said her role is to continue Geehrers legacy of enriching the lives of others.

Weve chosen to focus on assisting extraordinary medical students who demonstrate Christines indomitable spirit in taking on the challenge of medicine, Gewalt said. These extraordinary students will become doctors who touch the lives of many and, in this way, Christines extraordinary passion and commitment will continue to infuse and inspire others one challenge at a time.

Gewalt added that the event means more to her than she can describe because it is the type of event that Geehrer would have loved.

And she would have laughed at her motley crew of would-be athletes dressed in orange out-pacing themselves to run 200 miles, Gewalt quipped. But in the depth of their sadness, Chris friends and family are incredibly grateful for the compassionate and skillful care she received at UCSF.

When Gewalt established the scholarship in Geehrers honor, she was seeking to find a student who is not only committed to being the type of physician who cared for her but who is also passionate about taking on challenges. This years recipient was Alexandra Jay Teng, who is one of the Orange Crushed runners and will be running through St. Helena and crossing the finish line with the team in Calistoga.

Team Orange Crushed is named after Geehrers 1962 Lambretta, which she drove to work every day. Gewalts group of friends includes her running pals from John Muir Medical Center, Susan Kennedy, the former chief of staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and people who simply want to help.

Teams of racers left San Francisco in stages on Friday to wind 194 miles through the wine country and the North Bay, finishing in Calistoga.

There were 356 teams of six to 12 runners each. The race continued through the night, with team members taking shifts running while the others traveled by van. Each team had at least one van, sometimes two.

The first runners reached Napa by around 4 a.m. on Saturday. Runners came up Silverado Trail, while at least some of the support vans took Highway 29.

Since the race start was staggered, teams arrived in Calistoga in small groups throughout the day. Silverado Trail remained open during the race, with runners using the shoulder and moving against southbound traffic. Each team had one support van trailing the runners, so there was some heavier traffic between Calistoga and Napa.

Ragner Relay is the United States top provider and organizer for group relays. Basically, a team of 12 members runs approximately 200 miles for 24 hours. Teams can also have six members, which is called an Ultra Team. During the relay, each member runs three legs, ranging from three to nine miles per leg.

Teams started running the two-day, one-night relay at Marina Green in San Francisco and went over the Golden Gate Bridge, past the Marin Headlands, next to the windswept estuarine flats of the Sonoma Valley, and through the rolling hills of the Napa Valley before finishing in Calistoga.

Geehrer worked as an investigator both in the Alameda County Public Defenders office and the District Attorneys Office. She pushed past the physical limitations of severe asthma, chronic fatigue, bad knees and struggles with her weight, Gewalt said, and leaped at every challenge, defying the odds through sheer will and determination.

Geehrer earned a spot on the U.S. Ski Development Team for the 1980 Winter Olympics. She ran her first marathon in her mid-40s, leading her peers as a three-time Nike Marathon pace setter. Despite debilitating physical challenges, she ran, biked, kite-sailed and sky-dived, becoming a life-enhancing role model for others, pushing friends, family and co-workers to join her on every extraordinary adventure.

The 43-year old Gewalt and her two brothers were raised in Napa. Her parents were commercial developers in Napa and built and owned the Grape Yard Shopping Center. Kendall attended Vichy Elementary School, Silverado Middle School and Vintage High School, where she graduated in 1987.

Gewalt obtained her bachelor of arts degree in English at the University of Arizona and then pursued graduate studies in Instructional Technology before becoming a law enforcement officer in Alameda and Marin County. During school, she was active in a variety of sports, largely playing collegiate tennis, and was involved in many local civic organizations.

Gewalt added that the greatest reward with creating this scholarship is to honor the life of her partner while simultaneously providing the largest scholarship of its kind $26,200, the length of a marathon to an exceptional medical student attending the University of California San Francisco.

If I had to pick one thing that is most fulfilling to me about this, it would be seeing Chris spirit in the eyes of an aspiring medical student and thinking how incredibly proud she would be to inspire this student to achieve his or her dream, Gewalt said.

Most other scholarships are much smaller or for research grants. This one is designed to be a game-changer for one extraordinary student.

Throughout this weekend, Gewalts Orange Crushed team was a game-changer.

Visit www.9amrun.com[1] for more about the race.

References

  1. ^ www.9amrun.com (www.9amrun.com)

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