On every team that runs June 4 in the Race for the Place are families and individuals who have been touched by cancer. This is the story of one of those teams that runs to support The Gathering Place. With locations in Beachwood and Westlake, The Gathering Place addresses the physical, emotional and social needs of those coping with the impact of cancer.
Northeast Ohioan Nancy Sakai was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009 and that year found The Gathering Place to be a soothing sanctuary for her creative soul. She participated in a variety of programs, from art classes to massage therapy to yoga.
“My mother made so many friends at The Gathering Place,” says Heather Sakai, Nancy’s daughter. “When she was going through tough times, they would talk to her on the phone at night, send her flowers or cards.”
In appreciation for the programs that are offered at no charge, Nancy and her husband, Larry, formed their own fundraising race team for the annual 1-mile and chip-timed 5K.
“Nakama” is a Japanese term for “friend,” or “support,” according to Heather. And so, “Nancy’s Nakamas” was born. Racers request pledges for their participation, and the event is The Gathering Place’s biggest fundraiser of the year. In 2016, more than 4,000 participated in the race, raising more than $420,000. Nancy’s Nakamas raised $1,995 last year.
Nancy was 67 years old when she died in 2013 — “way too early,” says her husband. But he, his family and those who loved Nancy continue to participate in the Race for the Place.”
“My mother was tiny, but a warrior,” says Heather. “She had eye cancer when she was a little girl and had an eye removed and replaced by a prosthesis. She struggled with cancer all her life, but never complained. She never wanted us to worry about her. She was the kindest person that there ever was.”
Nancy loved calligraphy, watercolors and origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. She loved to make paper cranes. In Japanese culture, the crane is a revered creature; one legend says that 1,000 cranes (one for each year the mythical crane lives) given to someone can bring good luck. Nancy folded 1,000 paper cranes for her son’s wedding and another 1,000 for her church at Easter.
“Making the cranes reflected the kind of person my mother was. She could sit down and very carefully and quietly make something beautiful over and over again. She made many extra cranes that were stored in boxes. We passed out the cranes at her funeral,” says Heather, a member of the Rising Leaders Council, made up of about 15 young professionals who support The Gathering Place.
“Our goal is to let people know, especially young people, what The Gathering Place is all about. We help raise money to make sure it lives on. Anyone who is touched by cancer can go there. You can let someone know you need support and they will find it for you,” says Heather, a product manager and event director for Go Media, a web design, branding and graphics company in Ohio City.
University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center is the presenting sponsor of the event this year. The race is held the first Sunday of June, National Cancer Survivors Day. Race officials encourage participation by joining the actual race or making monetary donations.
17th Race for the Place
Sunday, June 4
Beachwood Place, 26300 Cedar Road Beachwood
7:30 a.m.: Registration
8 a.m.: Celebration Village opens
(activities for children, families)
8:45 a.m.: Cancer Survivors Ceremony
9 a.m.: 5K and 1-mile start
10:15 a.m.: Awards Ceremony
Information: To register, join or start a team: 216-595-9546; racefortheplace.com