Relief can occur in unexpected places.
When islander Kristi Rudolph suffered a stroke and the subsequent discovery of cancer while living in Italy last October, she was alone. She spent 63 days in three different hospitals undergoing exploratory surgeries.
Rudolph’s brother and several friends made it over to be with her, but in the meantime, the staff at a Rome hospital told Rudolph the cancer was more widespread than they’d originally estimated.
“And that’s when I decided to come home,” she said.
There was an up side, and a down side, to each locale. In Italy, Rudolph was treated completely free of charge. Back in the states, she faced daunting medical costs.
“So I came back with a little bit of trepidation about entering the United States (medical) system, not having any income anymore,” she said.
That is where her island community stepped in, as Arms Around Bainbridge selected her as its 2008 funding recipient.
The second annual around-the-island swim event, which takes place Sunday, carries layers of meaning.
The event itself consists of a continuous relay of strong-armed swimmers making their way around the island more or less from dawn to dusk on race day, starting and finishing at the foot of Blakely Harbor.
Last year’s inaugural event raised roughly $14,000 for Olivia Carey in her effort to combat ovarian cancer.
As is the case this year, swimmers paid the entry fees out of their own pockets, and the boaters who accompany them to ensure safe passage used their own gas – factors which led to zero expenses and 100 percent profit. Sharon Kane, who acts as Arms Around Bainbridge treasurer, expects the same to be true for 2008.
While the relay takes place on a single day, the organization accepts donations on an ongoing basis all year. This year, Kane said, Arms Around Bainbridge has already raised close to $10,000 for Rudolph.
Arms Around Bainbridge selects its annual recipient early in the calendar year, and while the two beneficiaries so far have been island women battling cancer, Kane said that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. The money and the support – the metaphorical “arms” – are intended to help create a comforting bolster of financial and emotional aid for an individual in crisis who is without health insurance.
“This is helping a community member,” Kane said.
Kane noted in an initial email that one of the factors that made Rudolph a fitting choice for 2008 was her family’s history of giving; her late father was architect John Rudolph, who, among his lasting contributions to the island, designed the Bainbridge Public Library.
“We would like to believe that he is still ‘with us’ and would appreciate the fact that we are helping his loved ones,” Kane said. “In fact, when we mention Kristi’s plight, several folks have said they would like to contribute in honor of her father.”
In a follow-up interview, Kane said she vividly remembers running the New York Marathon in November 2001, when the experience of 9/11 was raw in the public’s consciousness.
Few things in her life, she said, were as moving as crossing the finish line during that point in history.
But the first Arms Around Bainbridge, with traffic stopped and supporters waving signs on the Agate Pass Bridge, ranks right up there.
When Rudolph learned that she was to be this year’s recipient, she had a frank conversation with one of her nurses. She wasn’t certain she should accept the gift because she wasn’t sure she’d be alive to witness the event.
Her nurse told Rudolph that when they first met in December, she wouldn’t have been sure what to say. But based on she felt confident saying yes.
These days, Rudolph is taking things day to day, which despite its Zen connotations has its ups and downs.
Between a shifting chemotherapy regimen and the physical effects of her stroke, she finds it frustrating not to be able to establish a routine, or to use her body to its earlier capacity.
“I’m used to being really active and doing yoga and Pilates and dance and things like that,” she said. “The stroke changed that.”
The stroke also resulted in an unaccustomed emotional vulnerability, leading Rudolph to get upset more easily, which in turn makes it more difficult to sort out the details.
To that end, she’s grateful to friends and neighbors, and to local organizations like Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers and Helpline House, who have “gone over the top in helping me in a number of ways.”
Kane, meanwhile, describes Rudolph as calm, centered and private, without “one ounce of self-pity.”
And from the outset, Rudolph’s sights were set higher. She said that when she was in Italy, she asked the powers that be to “please let me get through this so that I can help other people.”
Because it’s those around her who are proving so vital right now.
“The optimism I have really comes a lot from people who believe I’m going to get better,” Rudolph said. “It’s not always possible myself.”