Local Radio Host Walks His Talk

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Local Radio Host Walks, Walks, Walks

His Talk for Relay For Life

In the movie “Caddy Shack,” Carl Spackler, the groundskeeper played by Bill Murray, is caddying for Bishop Fred Pickering when the wind and rain turns torrential.

“What do you think, fella?” the Bishop asks.

“I’d keep playing,” replies Spackler. “I don’t think the heavy stuff’s gonna come down for quite awhile.”

This, in a nutshell, describes Tom Spence’s experience at the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of Ventura at Buena High School last weekend.

Tom Spence is a superhero for local charities.

Tom Spence is a superhero for local charities.

As the winds forced most participants to seek shelter, and eventually pack up and leave early, Spence’s reaction was: I don’t think the heavy stuff’s here yet so I’ll just keep on walking.

Spence, a Ventura County radio personality for more than three decades and currently host of The KVTA Morning Show, has participated in numerous Relays For Life. This year he stepped up his game.

“I decided I’d walk the entire time,” says Spence, who made his goal public: Walk 53 miles – two marathons – during the 24 hours from the Relay’s opening ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday to its closing celebration Sunday morning.

After arriving more than an hour late straight from work, Spence walked a solid 12 miles in the first four hours before taking a 30-minute break.

The next four hours, however, saw his pace slow down as the winds picked up.

“I thought I was sunk at Mile 22,” Spence confides. “The cold wind was breaking me down. It was awful. I felt like I had the flu. I knew I had no chance for 53 miles.”

His hopes gone with the wind, Spence sought refuge in a friend’s RV.

“I was a new person after the half-hour break,” Spence recalls. “I was rejuvenated.”

It was more than the rest that did him good – it was good company rallying to his side. Friends, neighbors and even about 40 of his loyal listeners braved the elements to keep him company.

“I was stunned by the response, by such kindness,” Spence says. “They really lifted my spirits.”

Misery loves company. As the winds grew even stronger, so did Spence.

“Suddenly, I had a spring in my step,” he says.

A middle-of-the-night cup of Cuban coffee from a friend gave Spence’s stride another needed jolt.

As dawn arrived, so did the rain. What started out as a village of 60 tents for the various Relay teams was now a ghost town. Drenched but undaunted, Spence did the math and smiled into the teeth of the storm: “I realized I might do it after all.”

Do it he did, finishing GPS-certified Mile 53 with 15 minutes to spare.

By walking his talk, Spence raised more than $2,000 for the American Cancer Society; honored his wife, Colleen, who is a cancer survivor; and also beat down his body into agony.

“Monday morning at work,” Spence, 58, says, “I parked my car and – this is the truth – I crawled into the station on my hands and knees. I was bloody sore. I’ve done a lot of stuff – mud runs, two marathons – and nothing compares to this. I was in pain from toes to hips.”

Mark Twain said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” One might expect Spence felt this year’s Relay For Life was a long walk spoiled, but you would be wrong.

“I think this was my most memorable Relay For Life because it had to be endured,” Spence says.

It was also memorable for a different reason, a better reason, about 100 reasons.

“The real highlight was the people,” Spence says, warmly. “I can’t name everybody’s name who helped me and walked with me. People who you count on are wonderful – but also people you didn’t imagine, which is really awesome.”

The outpouring was well deserved because Tom Spence is a community treasure who has never met a charity event he would not assist.

“My motivation for helping is to make up for what I didn’t do up to when I was 21,” he explains. “I was a little slow before I started getting involved.”

Now he is unstoppable.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden&Me_cover_PRCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …





Column: The Cancer Bell Tolls

For Whom the Cancer Bell Tolls


            While the order of stanzas often changes, the message in a poem by Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who spent seven years in Nazi concentration camps, remains constant and tragic:


First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a Socialist.


Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.


Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a Jew.


Then they came for me –

And there was no one left to speak for me.


Eight decades after Niemöller penned these powerful words they have taken on new meaning to me. Personal meaning. About another heinous killer.


First cancer came for my young children’s beloved daycare provider, Jeannie.


Then cancer came for my dearest friend, Karen.


Then cancer came for Eric. And Louise. And Keith.


After gallant battles by each, and despite everything modern medicine could throw at it, this Gestapo of a disease unmercifully claimed all of their lives.


Then cancer came yet again and again, for my dad just over a year ago and two months later for my eldest brother. Surgery and radiation and chemotherapy – and let’s be honest, luck and god’s grace, too – saved their lives.


Then cancer came for me. Last Dec. 17, my wonderful dermatologist, Dr. Jill Mines, took a biopsy from a crack in my lip that stubbornly wouldn’t heal. The lab results came back positive for squamous cell carcinoma in situ: skin cancer.


A few weeks later Dr. Arthur Flynn, a talented plastic surgeon, sliced a wedge out of my right lower lip. For a while I looked like a bass that lost a battle with a barbed fishing lure. But the painful pout was a small price to pay because the new biopsy margins came back clear. Translation: The doc got it all.


Cancer is not only frightening, it is frighteningly common. To give you an idea, two out of five Californians will be diagnosed with some form of the disease in their lifetime. In other words, the cancer club is about as exclusive as Sam’s Club.


The good news is the American Cancer Society is making an impact through groundbreaking research to prevent, diagnose, treat and cure cancer. In fact, its annual Relays For Life raise funds that help save 400 birthdays each day.


The Relay For Life of Ventura will be held next Saturday (May 18) beginning at 10 a.m. and feature a festival of food trucks so even if you are not participating directly, you should drop by.


(Other upcoming local Relays For Life include: Ojai’s Nordhoff High, June 1; Westlake’s Oaks Christian School, June 8; Hueneme High, June 22; Fillmore’s Harmony Community Center, July 12; and Carpinteria’s Linden Field, July 20.)


After long successful runs at Ventura High and then Buena High’s football stadiums, this year’s Ventura event – under the guidance of new tireless chairperson Patty Abou-Samra – is moving to the San Buenaventura State Beach. It is difficult to imagine a more beautiful setting.


Actually, in a manner, this coastal site will become even more breathtaking with the sight of 1,500 members on 65 relay teams as they walk for 24 hours around the clock and around a circular 400-meter path outlined in chalk on the grass field. Their shared purpose is to raise funds, raise awareness, raise hope.


Raising more goose bumps than a Pacific sunset does will be the nighttime Luminaria Ceremony where hundreds of candles outlining the walking path’s perimeter will be lit, each flame representing a loved one’s life prematurely extinguished by cancer.


John Donne, a 17 th century English poet, wrote these immortal words that inspired no less than Ernest Hemingway: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”


When I look in the bathroom mirror a slight scar on my lip reminds me for whom cancer’s bell tolls; it may toll for thou, too; or surely for someone thou’st knows or loves.


— Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at woodywriter@gmail.com