SALEM - While a Salem teen continues his second battle with cancer, his supporters known as Levi's Fight Club plan to wage battle with their own bodies to show they're still behind him.
A team of one dozen relatives and friends of 13-year-old Levi Gaskins will travel to Florida for a 199-mile, 24-hour relay race from Miami to Key West on Jan. 4 and 5, the kickoff for the 2013 Ragnar Relay Series.
"We just want Levi to know we're still in his corner," his uncle, Steve Mercer, said.
Members of the team, many with connections to either Salem, United or West Branch, will wear shirts with the Levi's Fight Club logo to bring attention to the South Range student's fight.
They're paying their own expenses for the race, so any donations will go directly to Levi and his mother, Amy Englert, to cover medical and transportation expenses connected to his treatments. Donations can be mailed directly to Levi at Levi Gaskins, P.O. Box 945, Salem, Ohio 44460.
Levi was first diagnosed with recurrent Medulloblastoma, a rare brainstem tumor, at age 7 and had been in total remission after treatment at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. A new tumor was discovered a year ago and he's been traveling for intense chemotherapy to Cleveland, staying for one week each month.
"He's doing well, he's a fighter," Mercer said. "He never has a bad attitude about any of this. He doesn't ever give up."
Levi will be on all their minds in Florida, but he'll also be on Mercer's mind Saturday as Mercer takes part in the Warrior Dash in Canton, a 5K extreme obstacle course modeled after the Special Forces training routine. There will be fire pits to jump over, rock walls to climb, mud to crawl through and other obstacles along the way, he said.
He'll again be bringing attention to Levi's Fight Club to keep the awareness level up. Mercer also took part in last year's Warrior Dash.
The idea for taking part in the Ragnar Relay Series started after Mercer's brother Rick attended a race last year and saw their cousin, Keith Stearns, finish the race. The team will be divided into two six-person groups, with one group per van. Each person will run 20 to 30-mile legs broken up into three stages of 2 to 12 miles each, with team members taking turns running, like a relay. The race will begin on a Friday morning and end Saturday evening.
United Local people on the team besides Mercer and his wife Heather, both of the Guilford Lake area, include his brother Matthew of Columbus, his brother Rick of Port St. Lucie, Fla., Rick's son, Chad, also of Port St. Lucie and Rick's daughter, Chelsea, of Gainesville, Fla.
Salem representatives include cousin Keith Stearns of Durham, N.C. and cousin Christine Stearns of Smyrna, Del. Hannah Dunn, who lives in Salem, graduated from West Branch. Other members of the team include Genevieve Bilanzich of Ogden, Utah, Quennie Lynn of Canyon Lake, Calif and Michael Reed of Clearwater, Fla.
"It'll be interesting," Mercer said.
During the race, they plan to post photographs as they go. A link for Levi's Fight Club will be placed on the Ragnar Relay Series on Facebook.
Levi's mother, Amy, is a single mother and attends Kent State University Salem campus. He also has two younger sisters, Laci and Lourain.
Mercer said they just want to let Levi know that "we're still in there for him."
He asked for people's support and prayers for Levi's Fight Club and Levi.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org