Defying diagnosis, sisters repeat high school relay race

The four sisters (L-R) Anita Kobata, Naomi Killian, Rebecca Buchanan and Deborah Ridgeway participated in the Bellingham All Comers Track and Field meet July 11. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Buchanan)

Being told you have months, maybe a year, to live clarifies priorities pretty quickly, and for Edmonds resident Deborah Ridgeway, that prognosis inspired a relay race.

In 1991 Ridgeway and her three sisters  — Naomi, Anita and Deborah’s twin sister Rebecca — ran on the Meridian High School track team, a school just north of Bellingham. At one track meet they decided to run the 4 X 200 relay race , calling themselves the 4X Osburn, using their last name. Although the sisters came in last place, their familial ties generated local news coverage.

The photo of the four Osburn sisters competing appeared in this copy of the Lynden Tribune in 1991.

Ridgeway recently found the 1991 photo. “I was at my mom’s, going through old scrapbooks and I came across this photo from high school of running a relay race with my three sisters,” she said. “We had formed our own team just for fun. I thought, we need to recreate this someday.”

Turns out, throwing together the team – which occurred July 11, 2022 — came pretty easily, Ridgeway said. Buchanan was visiting from Alaska with two of her children and Kobata was with them one evening. Their oldest sister, Killian, was supposed to be with them but she changed plans and mentioned she was taking her daughter to the Bellingham All-Comers track meet.

“I’m like, wait, a track meet? We’re doing this,” said Ridgeway.

And they did, all four of them. “We had absolutely no training,” she added.

Also competing in the July 11 race were the children of the four Osburn sisters (L-R): Breeze Buchanan, Sophia Killian, Eleanor Ridgeway, Maive Ridgeway and Britta Buchanan. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Buchanan)

“My two daughters and three of my nieces took part in the same heat, but on different relay teams, so we actually raced against them,” she said. While the girls placed, their mothers did not. “We came in fourth and got a green participation ribbon,” Ridgeway said.

As fun as it was, Ridgeway struggled with her portion of the race. “The short distance wasn’t easy, which is ironic because I’ve always been so strong.” As a former police officer and long-distance runner, she’s had strength and endurance. “I think that gives me a little bit of a cushion as I fight cancer, but not enough to win this particular race,” Ridgeway laughed.

First diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, Ridgeway underwent treatment and was in remission for a decade. But it returned in 2020 as stage IV, metastatic cancer.

“And yet, I feel great most of the time. I recently had an oncology appointment and although my oncologist said, statistically, I have months to live, you wouldn’t know that by looking at me.”

And she doesn’t act it, choosing to live each day with energy and humor. This past 4th of July, Ridgeway — in a blonde wig — fronted her neighborhood float as the Statue of Liberty, her second year in that role.

Ridgeway has three children, a 14 year-old son and two daughters who are ages 13 and 11. She wants them to remember her as someone who had fun and didn’t let her disease define who she was. “Realizing this could be our last summer together has prompted me to create as many fun memories as I can and to have more intentional conversations with them, to establish a solid foundation,” she said.

“I have a really strong faith that has carried me though this from the beginning,” Ridgeway explained. “I trust that God is going to be in this.”

In ways that are hard to explain, Ridgeway feels fortunate, noting that some people never get a chance to say goodbye. “I have a timeline. I have notice. I can prepare. My kids know I have cancer and that it’s terminal, but I don’t want it to be a daily focus. if you come to our house, we’re laughing, having fun. I want to show my kids, keep going, rise above circumstances.”

And then, there’s her green ribbon, a ribbon that proves she showed up. She participated and got to the finish line with gusto and grace.

— By Connie McDougall

  1. Deborah you are amazing! Such fun and depth of character rolled into one. I love you and your energy! You are a blessing and a testimony to the grace and peace of God!
    Each day is a new adventure at the Ridgeways! Each of you are a blessing as you live your lives among us. Thanks for all the great memories made and those yet to come! You remind me that “God’s got this!”

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