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An active volunteer and 62-year cancer survivor join forces

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BAXTER — It’s not too late.

It’s not too late for runners, walkers and supporters to take part in the Komen Brainerd Lakes Race for the Cure Saturday at Forestview Middle School in Baxter. And two honorary chairs are serving as examples of the benefits of being involved in seeking a cure for breast cancer, supporting those battling the disease and those who have lost loved ones to it.

One, whose family has been largely affected by cancer, has played an active role in raising awareness for the cause. The other is a example of overcoming the odds as a 62-year breast cancer survivor.

“We try to find people that really represent the cause and our honorary chair is generally someone in our community who has been active in the race or a cause or in finding a cure,” said Lisa Slepica, race co-chair.

Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted was selected as honorary chair.

“We thought he is a perfect representation for our honorary chair,” Slepica said, noting Exsted’s active role in supporting both the Relay for Life and the Race for the Cure events. “Cancer has been in the forefront for his family life in the last several years. He’s been so visible and so supportive of the race event on a professional level and we’ve just known we can count on him.”

Exsted, 41, and his wife, lost five grandparents to cancer between them. His father died of lung cancer in 2004. In 2009, his sister-in-law Deb Exsted was diagnosed with breast cancer. The Komen Brainerd Lakes Race for the Cure reported Deb Exsted’s diagnosis led to an outpouring of support from friends and family. It gave birth to Team Exsted, which the race reports has been one of the strongest and largest teams here with more than 100 participants.

Slepica said the honorary survivor chair is really special this year.

Former Pine River resident, 92-year-old Viola Fjellman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1950. She had a radical mastectomy to remove her right breast. She gave birth to daughters in 1951 and 1957. In 1997, she lost her left breast to cancer.

The mother of four has 12 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren. Fjellman now lives in Edina.

“She was just tickled pink literally to be part of the race,” Slepica said. “We are really excited she is going to be here.”

At 8 a.m. Saturday at Forestview there will be a survivor photo and recognition ceremony. The dove release is at 8:35 a.m. The 5K race begins at 8:45 a.m. with the 5K and 1-mile walks at 8:47 a.m. the Kids for the Cure Races for ages 2-10 begins at 9:45 a.m. The award ceremony is 10:15 a.m. For more information, go online to

One of the changes this year is basing team awards, for community, friends and family and corporate teams, on the amount of donations raised instead of the number of team members. The venue at Forestview, with sponsors, giveaways and food will include a photo booth with the traditional strip of photos. People are able to register for the event through 8 a.m. Saturday at Forestview.

Exsted said being asked to be the honorary chair this year was humbling and an honor. They asked him to shoot the gun to begin the race and bring more exposure to the battle against breast cancer.

He told them he could do both. But he joked they told him he couldn’t use his own gun, they’d provide him with a horn of some sort. “It’s an uplifting experience,” Exsted said. “You’d never think cancer and an uplifting experience go hand-in-hand.”

The overall message is one of hope, Exsted said, that a cure can be found and they are not going to stop until that happens.

“I think of it as a celebration and that’s what they want it to be and they do a very good job of providing that message.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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