A Havana resident is walking in multiple Relays for Life to help in the search for cures for the multitude of cancers affecting many people these days. Relays for Life are set up to raise money for research for every single cancer known to mankind today.
There are not enough governmental funds to pay for research for the rarest of cancers, nor do research facilities have the funding to do so, so the American Cancer Society has stepped into the gap, getting dedicated volunteers to walk in an overnight event in which they walk from Friday evening to Saturday morning to help raise funds for research. Nearly 100% of the money raised goes directly to that cause.
One local volunteer has walked hundreds and hundreds of miles for Relay. Havana-born George ‘Gator’ Harris is a very modest man, but walks everywhere even when not participating in Relays, despite having an artificial leg. He lost one of his legs five years ago to a diabetes-related medical problem. Gator grew up in Havana and eventually left to travel to Montreal, Canada where he spent 20 years as a cook.
When his father became seriously ill in Orlando in 2000, Gator returned to Florida to see him. His father passed away shortly afterward, and his mother was diagnosed with diabetes at the same time. Shortly after that, so was Gator. He returned to Havana to live. By 2009, the diabetes had taken his leg. During his walks since then, Gator says he has had no problems but recently has felt some pain.
An incident at a Relay for Life walk at Florida State University made him readjust his thinking about walking at every Relay event he could. Last year, he started walking at 6:00 p.m. One of the campus police officers attending the Relay saw him walking with his signature cane that has an alligator head on it. Gator also wears a shirt imprinted with an alligator as well as a ‘Gator hat. Several Florida State University (FSU) football players took umbrage and were then standing on the field as he walked, blocking his continuation as he was walking on for an FSU Relay.
A police officer had seen him walking earlier. Gator walked around them so there would be no confrontation. After making the loop around the field, he found 12-13 people crossing his track, blocking him. He again went around them. By the time he got to the origin point, an officer was waiting, asking him if he had just come from a local restaurant. The officer said he’d had a report of a man drunk and staggering.
Gator told the officer that he didn’t drink and that he‘d been walking since 6:00 p.m. He was required to show his Relay participation papers to prove he was part of the Relay for Life event. Gator was eventually instructed by police to leave the event.
Since then, he’s recently participated in a Leon County event where he walked 80 miles to raise money for a cure. A couple of weeks ago, he walked in Quincy’s event and logged 82 miles. He’s now looking forward to another walk in an event in Leon County next week.
Gator walks through Havana most days. He’s a delightful fellow to talk to. If you spot him, walk up and say hi!