ELLSWORTH — As the sun’s rays seeped through the clouds late Saturday morning, the light shining down upon Kinsley Ray Archer’s name provided the perfect backdrop for a moment of peace.
An hour earlier, the last batch of participants had crossed the Kinsley Ray Memorial 5K finish line behind the Down East Family YMCA’s James Russell Wiggins Center. With more walkers than runners on hand, the event unfolded not as a competitive race to the finish but as a joyous parade of smiling faces and sky-blue T-shirts down Shore Road and Pond Avenue.
Although these few minutes of silence, in which a small crowd huddled around a tree and engraved bench dedicated to Kinsley Ray in Knowlton Park, were in stark contrast to the earlier scenes at DEFY, they were no less powerful; after a morning that began with gray skies, the final image was that of the sun gleaming off a memorial to a baby girl those around her called “a ray of sunshine.”
Those moments and more captivated an entire city Saturday morning as the Ellsworth community came together for a day few will ever forget. A DEFY record of 650 people participated in the race in honor of Kinsley Ray, who died of acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 4 months Dec. 10.
“People rally together in times like this, and the generosity is amazing,” Holly Archer, Kinsley Ray’s mother, said following the race. “I’ve seen people that I haven’t seen in years and people that have traveled states to be here. It shows the type of community we have here.”
The stage for the Kinsley Ray Memorial 5K was set in the weeks following her passing as DEFY’s Robin Clarke was brainstorming ideas to support Holly and her husband, Brian “Buddy” Archer. Clarke started by reaching out to one of the Archers’ best friends, Chelsea Sawyer.
At the time, Clarke and Sawyer weren’t certain as to what they wanted to do to help. Yet with one of DEFY’s biggest road race’s, the Jerry Kaufman 5K, set to enter its 12th year in 2019, the timing felt right for the race to take on a new cause. The Kaufman family gave the OK for the event to take a new form, and preparations began.
As co-organizers, Clarke and Sawyer planned for the event to be a big one from the start. Yet neither could have dreamed of the turnout the race generated or the lengths to which everyone from family friends to random strangers would go to show their support for the couple.
“When you look around and see just how many people came out for this, it really makes my jaw drop,” Sawyer said. “So many people went the extra mile to make this happen because this family really deserves it.”
Sawyer said the event raised more than $11,000 for the Lymphoma & Leukemia Society between donations and registration fees. Local businesses were present to provide coffee, a post-race lunch, a giant tent and other amenities free of charge.
Bar Harbor’s Judson Cake finished with a time of 16 minutes, 37 seconds to win the race, and Dara Knapp of Columbia Falls reached the chute in 20:27 to finish as the top female runner. The first-, second- and third-place runners in each age bracket received medals.
The top runners, though, knew this event was about more than personal records, hardware or bragging rights. The cause hit close to home for one of the award recipients, Tamera Murphy, and the Trenton native spoke up when she was called forward to collect her medal.
“I’m a five-year lymphoma survivor, and I have MS,” Murphy, who placed second in the women’s 60-69 age group, told the crowd. “If I can run it, anybody can.”
As Cake, an officer with the Bar Harbor Police Department, received his trophy, he pointed to a police emblem on his sweat-stained shirt. The gesture was one of solidarity with Brian Archer, a deputy with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office.
With the bulk of Archer’s co-workers there in support, the line of deputy cruisers stretched the entire length of the Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School parking lot. After all the family had been through, no one was going to miss this uplifting occasion.
“Seeing the whole community come out like this is everything we wanted and more,” Sawyer said. “It just really warms your heart.”
Clarke said earlier in the week that Saturday’s race could be either a one-time event or an annual race in Kinsley Ray’s memory. That decision, she said, is up to the Archer family.
“It could just be something we do this year, or it could be for the next 20 years,” Clarke said. “When that time comes, we’ll find another good cause.”
Saturday, though, was a time to remember rather than look ahead. From the starting line to the packed awards ceremony in the DEFY gymnasium to the somber moments in Knowlton Park, there were hugs, there were tears and, most importantly, there was healing for a couple that needed it most.
As they took a moment to reflect on it all, Holly and Brian Archer gave each other a long embrace in the middle of the park. On day filled with emotions of all kinds, it was just one reminder of the daughter they will keep in their hearts forever and the community that gave them five hours they will remember the rest of their lives.
“It’s just so overwhelming,” Holly said. “The kindness everyone has shown us just truly is amazing. It’s what’s gotten us through this whole time.”