Martha and Roger Staley have sailed their 27-foot keelboat on Lake Norman at least 100 times in the last seven years.
Inspired to learn after a trip to Cancun, Mexico, the couple started sailing together after Martha, 61, bought sailing lessons for her husband in 2002. She told him if he passed, they would buy a boat.
"He passed, we bought a boat and we have been learning ever since," said Martha.
The Newton couple learned to sail together, and they both have lost loved ones to leukemia. That's why they have partnered with BB&T, Outrigger Yacht Club and the Western Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to host the inaugural Leukemia Cup Sailing Regatta on Lake Norman Oct. 1-2.
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"It has been a pleasure learning to sail with my wife over the years because it has offered us an activity that we can do together," said Roger, 58. "My wife is my best friend, and we have had many positive adventures on several different types of sailboats on Lake Norman, the Atlantic and the Caribbean."
Martha's first husband, Dale, died from multiple pulmonary emboli in 2001. Roger also lost his first wife in 2001 from acute myelocytic leukemia.
Then Martha and Roger met in 2002.
Martha's daughter, Morgan, got married in 2007. Her husband proposed to her on the Staleys boat. She was diagnosed with acute myelocytic leukemia in July 2007. In spite of six rounds of chemotherapy at Carolinas Medical Center - Charlotte and UNC Chapel Hill , as well as a bone marrow stem cell transplant from her brother, she died in 2008.
That prompted Staley family members and friends to more actively support the local American Cancer Society chapter as participants, committee members and volunteers.
"It struck us that we really need to help the leukemia folks specifically," said Martha. "We saw ads about regattas in sailing magazines and thought, 'We can do that on Lake Norman.'"
"Many people have family members and friends that lose their life to dreadful diseases," added Roger. "My wife and I have realized that out of our loss of family members, we must continue to move forward with our lives. The Lake Norman Leukemia regatta is one special way to support the many efforts of researchers and doctors to find ways to prolong lives and find cures."
The couple met with members of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2009, and the staff quickly hopped on board their regatta fundraiser idea. Similar events are held in places like the Great Lakes and Lake Mead in Nevada and Arizona, said Martha who hopes to raise about $5,000 and expects 20 boats plus crew to participate.
"I think we may reach that," she said. "I had hoped for 30 initially, but I think 20 is a good number. If this event can happened as we planned it, I know we will be doing something that helps other leukemia victims perhaps even survive."
The potential for this event to make a lasting difference stands out to her husband.
"It is like any time you take the time to enhance your life: No one can take away the knowledge, good times or challenging times that one creates for oneself or others," said Roger. "The regatta is a way for many sailors and non-sailors to support the ongoing research to cure a dreadful disease called leukemia and other blood disorders. We hope the local sailing regatta will continue to be a yearly event on Lake Norman, and more and more people will realize the need to donate to the cause and participate in the regatta activities."