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Combined Regional Event Surpasses $100,000 Goal
Relay For Life
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Cancer survivors carry the banner as they officially start the 2021 Relay For Life of Greater Stanislaus County, which brought Modesto, Oakdale, Turlock and surrounding communities together for the event. Hosted at John Thurman Field in Modesto, the Relay was Oct. 9 and 10, a 24-hour event. Marg Jackson/The Leader

Back to a 24-hour event, the Relay For Life of Greater Stanislaus County saw participants from Oakdale and Riverbank in addition to Modesto, Turlock, Escalon and more.

After not having an in person event in 2020 due to the pandemic, reductions in staffing levels at the American Cancer Society prompted the regionalization of the signature Relay For Life program. Here, the three host cities of Modesto, Oakdale and Turlock – which previously had individual relays – were joined together for one large event. Riverbank and Escalon were included in the Oakdale Relay For Life over the past few years and so continued on to the ‘Greater Stanislaus County’ regional event.

Presenting sponsor for this year’s event, hosted at John Thurman Field in Modesto, was the local ConAgra of Oakdale, while the top fundraising team – Meet the Flockers – is based in Modesto but Team Captain Donna Stephens is an Oakdale resident.

Escalon American Legion Post 263 members were called on to present the colors to begin the Relay, with the blessing of the Modesto post. Providing the Opening Ceremony address was longtime Oakdale Leader/Escalon Times/Riverbank News reporter and columnist Teresa Hammond, outlining her own battle with breast cancer and urging everyone to be their own best advocate in dealing with their health care needs.

Survivors, many wearing purple shirts, started the official laps for the Relay, about 9:45 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9.

Opening Ceremonies began at 9 a.m. Saturday and the event lasted through 9 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 10.

Goal for this year, said American Cancer Society staff partner TJ Johnson, was $100,000.

Much of the fundraising is done prior to the event and, going in on Saturday, the Relay had already brought in around $93,000.

By the time closing ceremonies started, the total had far surpassed the original goal, with more than $125,800 raised.

Helping emcee the event was longtime ‘Voice of the Mustangs’ Pete Simoncini, who presided over the always popular Miss Relay contest. That event features men from the teams dressing up as women and collecting donations to support the Relay cause. This year, with the event in October as opposed to in the spring, a pumpkin carving contest was also part of the fun. The Race to Recovery event featured decorated cars made out of cardboard, there was a newspaper fashion show at 5 a.m., and musical entertainment during the event as well. The Wet Bandidos took the stage on Saturday evening, providing upbeat music for those walking their laps on the track. Leader editor Marg Jackson also helped emcee the 24-hour event as well.

John Thurman Field in Modesto, home of the Modesto Nuts baseball team, was the site for this year’s event, a venue that the majority of participants were happy with, as it had a dedicated track for walking and plenty of room for teams and activities.

There were also several special activities designed for cancer survivors, including massages, games with prizes, meals and more in a covered pavilion adjacent to the track.

At the Sunday morning closing ceremony, Meet the Flockers was announced as the top fundraising team with over $20,175 raised; ConAgra took second place honors at $19,651 and a CostLess team from Ceres was third at $16,101. Receiving a unique ‘Relay For Life’ fundraising belt – similar to those won by professional wrestlers – went to Monica Saucedo for raising the most money during September, the final month before the event.

As of presstime, with donations still coming in, the 2021 Relay For Life of Greater Stanislaus County had raised more than $127,191.

Relay For Life mentor Monique McDevitt, left, and American Cancer Society staff partner TJ Johnson, right, flank some of the award winners from the 2021 event. They include Glori Hiltabidel, whose team took the participation award; September fundraising contest winner Monica Saucedo; Relay chair Irene Cortez; and top fundraising team captain Donna Stephens. Marg Jackson/The Leader
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Keynote speaker for Opening Ceremonies on Saturday morning was journalist Teresa Hammond of The Oakdale Leader/Escalon Times/Riverbank News, who detailed her own battle with breast cancer. Marg Jackson/The Times
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Emcee Pete Simoncini questions a contestant in the Saturday, Oct. 9 Miss Relay contest at the 2021 Relay For Life, a combined event featuring teams from several communities, gathering in Modesto. Marg Jackson/The Leader