Last year’s second annual ‘Run 4 Rina’ went off without a hitch. This year, the local foundation behind the run has opened up the 5K event to the public in an effort to increase awareness of dangerous skin cancer melanoma.
A Fight Long Remembered
Family, friends of late local cancer victim Rina Agriss Blair join public for third annual ‘Run 4 Rina’ at James Island County Park
By Charlie Morrison
The story of the Yankee who’s moved south only to be overcome by the summer sun is one oft heard in the Lowcountry, typically in the form of a joke aimed at a some sheepish, sunburned transplant sitting on a bar stool. When the narrative turns serious, however, the jokes end and Lowcountry residents typically lend a sympathetic ear. Such was the case of the late Rina Agriss Blair, a New Jersey native turned Charleston resident, wife and mother, who’d spent the last chapter of her tragically shortened life living on Johns Island and working for Kiawah Island Resorts, in their sales department.
In 2003, Blair was diagnosed with a malignant form of melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer associated with typically contracted by people with fair, light-skinned complexions who’d been exposed to extended periods of intermitted UV rays from the sun. Described by her friends not as a fighter but as a brawler, Blair fought the disease for six years before ultimately succumbing in the fall of 2009. And while her life was cut short, her spirit lives on in the form of a foundation formed in her name. On October 6, Blair’s extended family of friends, relatives, acquaintances and others with skin cancer and melanoma will, for the third year in a row, descend upon James Island County Park in the name of Rina and her fight against skin cancer for the ‘Run 4 Rina,’ the primary fundraising event of the Rina Agriss Blair Foundation.
The Rina Agniss Blair Foundation was started roughly a year following her death by her sister Christina LaFountain. The two sisters had a established a special bond in their youth that was later forged in time spent living together in San Diego, followed by their subsequent, shared return to Charleston, where Rina reconnected with an old boyfriend of hers, Doug Blair, who later became her husband and father to their daughter, Reyla.
At Christina’s side at the foundation is another who’s early years were impacted by Rina, Christina’s childhood best friend Heywood Robinson, who now serves as the foundation’s communications officer.
“We didn’t think she’d ever actually succumb to it,” says Robinson of Blair, an instrumental figure in her own life. “She fought, and fought, and fought, and we all thought, ‘if anyone could fight this, it would be Rina, because she was a fighter.” Despite her fight being, ultimately, a losing one, on her sister’s character to the end Christina LaFountain agrees.
“We used to always say that we were each other’s soul mates, as silly as that may sound, she was more than a sister and a friend … it was much deeper than that,” says Christina, who established the foundation in August of 2010 and still serves as its official head.
“She’d be so happy that we do this, it brings all of her friends together from college and preschool, gosh she had so many friends … and now it’s going to bring the community an opportunity to get out there and do something different. So many people with it feel like they’re alone, to be able to try to do something about that is special.
“Rina used to always say, ‘I don’t know what people do when they don’t have that support I do,’ and to think that we could make even the slightest difference to help someone in her name just warms my heart, continues LaFountain. “Even though it was a very, very negative thing that happened, that there’s a little bit of a positive that can come from it is just really special.”
What was once ‘a little bit positive,’ has grown in scope since their first ‘Run 4 Rina,’ and is sure to take a giant leap this coming October 6, when the foundation will for the first time officially host the ‘Run 4 Rina.’ The Melanoma Institute Foundation and the Melanoma Research Foundation served as benefactors, respectively, for the first and second incarnations of the ‘Run 4 Rina.’ The run, now in its third year at the James Island County Park, will be the first in which the Rina Agriss Blair Foundation will be managing the event and collecting the revenues raised by the event. Though the group has donated more than $8,000 to the two melanoma research foundations they’d partnered with over the foundation’s first two years, the group is excited to have an impact on where the money specifically goes.
“What the foundation for us does, and what I think we’re so excited about is the fact that we are now our own foundation. We get to decide what we want to do with the money now. We don’t have a definitive answer as to what we’re exactly going to do with the money but it’s to impact locally, whether that be a local family or a local hospital that has needs,” says Kevin LaFountain, foundation treasurer. For his wife Christina, doing things as her sister would’ve is a key component of the foundation’s current activity. “It can be scary, to just dive in head first, but that’s very much who she was,” she says.
For the other LaFountain involved in the foundation, organization treasurer and Christina’s husband, Kevin, keeping to what Rina would herself want for the foundation is key.
“The run is not the point, the point is for people to come and get together and play a kickball game, to do a cornhole tournament, to meet each other … we’re not just looking to raise money,” says LaFountain. “It’s also to gather the community together, and for people who are battling it to meet other people who are battling it, it’s a community event. Our foundation, our cause, is not a sterile, medical thing. We’re a living, breathing foundation with a heartbeat.”
For more information on the living, breathing heartbeat of the Rina Agriss Blair Foundation or the 3rd annual ‘Run 4 Rina,’ see the group’s website at www.rinafoundation.org, see their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RinaAgrissBlairFoundation, or their Twitter feed, at www.twitter.com/#!/RinaAgrissBlairFndn. You can also email the foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.