Teams by the dozens, participants by the hundreds, they converged on the campus of Oakdale High School for a 24-hour period to fight a common foe: cancer.
Oakdale’s 10th annual Relay For Life, the signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society, was staged on April 16 and 17, bringing the community together to rally around cancer survivors and make a difference in the lives of those battling the disease.
There were opening ceremonies, almost non-stop musical entertainment, special events, food and treats for cancer survivors at their own ‘Celebration Tent’ and lots of fundraising for the cause.
“Jammin’ For A Cure” had a number of Oakdale High School and Oakdale Junior High School students on their team. They sold everything from hair bows to horseshoes with a few cookies, Icees, and cookies in between at their booth. Amee Neathery led her peers as the team captain with help from co-captain Taffy Stansbury. This is Neathery’s second year to participate in Relay For Life. When asked what it meant for her to be involved with Relay, the meaning is clear as the teen lost her mom Jamie to cancer.
“It means a lot for me,” she said. “I don’t want people to have to fight against cancer. I want to get a cure, let them live a normal life.”
All around the track, set up this year on the varsity and JV soccer fields at Oakdale High, teams were focused on the same goal. There was time for the three keys to Relay: Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back.
“There is no finish line until we find a cure,” said Relay Chairperson Erin Pearson in welcoming all those participating.
Opening ceremonies included the annual pledge, offered by Survivor Chairperson Stevie Cordoza and a memorable rendition of the Mission Statement — what Relay For Life is all about — by siblings Jackson and Maddy Hammond, displaying the appropriate visual aids while mom Teresa Hammond recited the mission statement.
The Relay For Life offers a way to celebrate survivors, celebrate advances being made in the fight against cancer; a chance to remember those lost to the disease through the placement of luminaria bags and the evening luminaria ceremony; and a way to fight back by raising money for continuing research, education and patient services.
Cancer survivor Louise Leverett was among those taking the microphone at opening ceremonies and said it’s 24 hours of time well spent.
“You feel alone, but you’re not,” Leverett told her fellow survivors. “Just know that everybody here is working for a cure.”
And whether that work was through volunteering to perform at the event, raising money on line or through donations by local sponsoring businesses, organizations or individuals, or by walking laps on the track, the effort all added up to more than $176,900 raised.
In its 10th anniversary year, Oakdale’s Relay For Life is pushing the $2 million mark and, with money for this year’s event accepted through the end of August, could surpass that total.
Fifth grader Allissa Gutierrez, on the Fair Oaks school team, said she “walked a lot” but enjoyed the event, staying up for the full 24 hours.
“Just the reason we are here,” she said of what impressed her the most. “Fighting cancer.”
Among the leaders in the fundraising area this year were Antinetti’s All Stars, with more than $12,870 raised to earn Top Fundraising Team. Top Fundraising Youth Team was In Memory of Steve with over $6,300 and the Top Fundraising Individual was Theresa Swilley of Monica’s Family and Friends. Beka Bjorge was the Top Fundraising Youth Individual, Margie’s Team was the Top On-Line Fundraising Team, with honors for on site going to Monica’s Family and Friends, Family and Friends of Stampede and the Team Spirit Award to the Komonawanacure team.
The event also featured the presentation of the Patient Courage Award to team captain and former chair Dawn Jerkins, a cancer survivor who continues to battle health problems. This year’s chairperson, Pearson, and co-chair Heather Murray made the presentation near the close of the event on Sunday morning.
For most involved, Relay For Life is personal, as the majority of participants have lost loved ones to cancer or walked through the ordeal with them. A luminaria bag, lit up Saturday evening to help light the way for walkers, put it simply and perhaps the best:
I miss you buddy
Leader reporter Dawn M. Henley contributed to this story.