OBX Shave Riders: $20,000 for childhood cancer research

By on May 6, 2019

Father and son go bald. Jason Johnson, with multi-colored hair, gets ready to lose his locks as Peggy Gabriel shaves Andrew’s head.

For Jason Johnson, the answer to his fears when his daughter, Ansley, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2017 was to find a way to fight back.

With the Outer Banks Shave Riders fund raiser for St. Baldrick’s Foundation on Saturday at Nags Head Elementary School, that is what he has done.

“My daughter for the last two years has had a form of childhood cancer. I always said that if she survived this and we got to a good place we could we would give back,” he said. “Nobody wants to be a part of this world personally, but you just feel driven to do whatever you can do to give back.”

He had first encountered a St. Baldrick’s fundraiser in Virginia and he knew it was something that he wanted to do.

“It touched me,” he said. “I approached the principal of Nags head Elementary School (Adrienne Palma) and the PTO and they were very receptive.”

Ansley Johnson shaves Nags Head Elementary School PE teacher Steve Smalley's head.

Ansley Johnson shaves Nags Head Elementary School PE teacher Steve Smalley’s head. Photo, Jason Johnson.

St. Baldrick’s Foundation is the largest funder of research on childhood cancer. An international organization, they have, over the years, developed a remarkable track record of bringing new treatments to the youngest of patients.

“I’ve met people, adults, who were beneficiaries of trial drugs that saved their lives that St. Baldrick’s funded,” Johnson said.

For years, one of the most effective ways St. Baldrick’s has raised money is through community head shaving events. Teams agree to have their heads shaved in public for donations. And the Outer Banks community really came through.

“I think we are over $20,000 in just 12 weeks,” Johnson said.

It was an emotional day. There was laughter as hair fell from heads; joy knowing that the Outer Banks had stepped up to do its part. There were also tears — perhaps of fear, perhaps gratitude — or maybe the two reactions coming together.

The cause is a serious one, but the event is very much a celebration of community. Kicking off the shaving day, Dare County Commissioner Ervin Bateman and Sheriff Doug Doughtie were first to lose their hair.

Bateman heard about the event when someone approached him in the Kitty Hawk Ace Hardware. If he had doubts about it, they fell to the side when he learned who else was getting their head shaved.

“He said Doug Doughtie was doing it also and I was in,” he said.

“It’s for kids and it’s a big thing,” Bateman added. “It’s a big thing trying to leave this place better than when we got it. Taking care of each other.”

It was not just men getting their heads shaved.

Marilyn Savage was the number-one fundraiser for the event.

“I raised $1,663. I just put it on Facebook and shared on my page and people donated for the cause. It helped raise awareness,” she said, adding, “The hair will grow back and if I can help one child, then it was all worth it.”

Shaving Marilyn Savage's head. Savage was the largest single fundraiser, bringing $1663 to the Outer Banks Shave Riders.

Shaving Marilyn Savage’s head. Savage was the largest single fundraiser, bringing $1,663 to the Outer Banks Shave Riders.

“I had a couple of friends who had childhood cancer. It just hit home and I just decided to do it,” she explained.

Savage’s experience knowing that friends had cancer underscores a point that Johnson emphasized.

“What lot of people on the Outer Banks don’t know is we do have a community of parents who have fought cancer. It’s not rare; it happens everyday,” he said.

“The goal is to hopefully find a cure. If maybe one of these dollars, or a thousand of these dollars today and going forward helps one kid, it’s all worth it,” Johnson said.

Ansley was on hand. She had had a rough week last week, but had a chance to wield some clippers during the event, cutting the hair of Nags Head Elementary School PE teacher Steve Smalley.

“She’s doing well. It’s still up and down. She’s doing very well, considering,” her father said.

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