Exactly a week ago, I went to the Self Regional Healthcare Cancer Center to do a story on Cancer Survivors Day, the hospital’s annual event designed to celebrate individuals and families who have battled the dreaded disease.
Those who attended the Self event — there were several hundred on hand — gathered under a large tent on a sun-drenched afternoon and participated in a “paint and pour” session in which they had the opportunity to create inspirational paintings.
As I stood at the edge of the gathering and watched the survivors, it was stunningly clear there is not one “face of cancer.”
This was a diverse group of people. Young, old, black, white, skinny, fat, you name it. Cancer is not discriminatory. It touches all of our families, at some point.
In recent times, the disease touched one of the closest, most tight-knit families in the area: The Greenwood County Fire Service.
As you likely have read, Highway 34 Volunteer Fire Department firefighter Keith Ridgeway has been diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. It’s not good, but, typical of a firefighter, Keith is meeting it head on and with eyes wide open.
“Right now, we are just going through treatments,” Ridgeway told me during a recent conversation. “We are praying for the best. I’ve got a lot of good people praying for me. We’ve got a lot of good people helping us out with benefits and that sort of thing. I’ve been overwhelmed, really, by the response of the fire service.”
The county fire service — the old school, salt-of-the-earth band of brothers and sisters who operate in the county’s 12 fire districts and 15 fire stations — has rallied around Ridgeway since his diagnosis became known.
This is not a shock.
Greenwood County’s volunteer firefighters have been rallying around one another seemingly forever. The county service is underfunded and, at many stations, the guys are asked to do a thankless job with aging equipment and vehicles. All they’ve got is each other.
And yet, when the bell tolls, they continue to leave their families and the comforts of home, often in the dead of night, to show up at fires and wrecks and other emergencies. For free.
So, it isn’t really a surprise that, when one of their own has his back against the wall, members of the fire service are stepping forward and spearheading an effort to help raise funds and awareness for his plight, one bucket of cold water at a time.

IF YOU ARE ON FACEBOOK or other forms of social media and have friends in the Greenwood area, you have no doubt seen the many “cold water challenge” videos that have been circulating to benefit Ridgeway’s “Team Keith.” The area fire departments were largely responsible for getting the social media ball rolling in regard to the cold-water fundraisers.
Basically, here’s how it works:
When a person accepts a cold-water challenge, they agree to have a very large bucket of ice water poured on them. That person then issues a cold-water challenge to five other people. If those people accept the challenge, the challenger donates $20 in each of their names to Team Keith. If they fail to accept the challenge, they have to give $100 to Team Keith.
Those who are called out are supposed to have 24 or 48 hours to accept or deny the cold-water challenge, but, from what I can tell, that time limit is pretty loose, so long as people eventually accept the challenge.
Last week, I was issued a cold-water challenge by Mike Waters of the Callison Fire Department who said he would donate $20 in my name to Team Keith upon my participation.
Of course, I accepted. Heck, coming to work at the Index and dealing with executive editor Richard Whiting every day is already like getting a bucket of cold water in the face. What’s one more bucket?
We filmed the whole thing and put it on Facebook. Of course, I subsequently had to call out five others and keep the benefit going. My victims were state Sen. Floyd Nicholson, county Councilman Robbie Templeton, state Rep. Shannon Riley, Auto Drive-in owner Tommy McCutcheon and Index managing editor Gregg Hampton.
Nicholson, Templeton and Hampton have accepted their challenges and will be doused soon. I’m still waiting on Riley and McCutcheon to get in. I’m betting they’ll accept.
Of course, these cold-water challenges are just a fun way to put a spin on a benefit for a great guy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Keith wheeling up on the scene of a fire or emergency in his trademark black truck.
I’d like to keep seeing that truck roll up on scenes.
I asked Ridgeway what it meant to him to see the cold-water challenges in his honor go viral online. He said he has been overwhelmed by the challenges and the support he has received, so much so that thanking people doesn’t seem like enough.
“It’s incredible,” Ridgeway said. “I’m normally not speechless, but … You want to tell people ‘Thank you,’ but that just seems so lame, you know? Just to say ‘Thanks,’ that’s lame to me. I wish there was some way I could really tell them how I feel and what it means to me have them do (the challenges) for me.”
Keith, my friend, there is no thanks needed. We are the ones who are thankful. Thankful to know you and your family, thankful to have you show up to all those fires, thankful you have been willing to put your life on the line.
Sure, the cold-water challenges are a fun thing. But it’s not really about dumping water on someone or putting it on social media or who gets called out. This is about a community lifting up one of its own.
I’m Team Keith.

Trainor is the senior staff writer at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 864-943-5650; email ctrainor@indexjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @IJCHRISTRAINOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.