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Teams take to the track for ACS Relay For Life
As the survivors in their purple shirts get ready to walk the inaugural lap, a dove release provided a poignant start for the 2024 Relay For Life of Greater Stanislaus County, hosted May 18 and 19 at Johansen High School in Modesto. Marg Jackson/The Leader

With over $125,000 raised so far, the Relay For Life of Greater Stanislaus County met with success over the weekend.

The multi-city, multi-county combined regional event to raise funds for the American Cancer Society drew hundreds of participants and dozens of teams to Johansen High School in Modesto.

It was a quick turnaround time from the 2023 to the 2024 event, as teams were at John Thurman Field in Modesto the last day of September and first day of October in 2023. The decision to move back to a spring Relay and return to Johansen – where the Modesto event had been in years past – meant a shorter time frame for fundraising and getting teams together.

There are still a couple of months in the ACS fundraising year, so officials are anticipating reaching the goal of $175,000 set for this year.

Presenting sponsor was ConAgra Brands and teams came from Oakdale, Riverbank, Modesto, Tracy, Ripon, Patterson and more, with participants from several other communities including Escalon and Turlock.

The 24-hour Relay ran from 9 a.m. Saturday, May 18 to 9 a.m. Sunday, May 19. Opening ceremony speaker Patrick Shields, a two-time cancer survivor, was diagnosed as a teenager. Now, married and working as a Field Representative for Stanislaus County District 4 Supervisor Mani Grewal, Shields and his wife just celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter.

He said battling cancer twice, as a young man, he wasn’t sure what the future would hold. But what he learned, after going through chemotherapy and radiation, was that for him, treatment and its side effects wasn’t what troubled him most.

“The hardest part was living as a survivor; every day waking up, wondering if I’m going to get another phone call,” he said. “Every day wondering what my life is going to look like. Will I get married? Will I graduate from college? Will I have children? Will I live to see 30? These things constantly going through your mind; as a young man, 19, 20 years old, I didn’t know how to handle that. I struggled, I really, really, really struggled. Fighting the idea that I have to do things today because tomorrow’s not promised for me and living, almost recklessly, after getting a third chance at life.”

He said he came to think of his cancer as a “cloudy time” in his life.

“We have moments in our life that are cloudy, that are dark, that are very hard to see,” Shields told those at the opening ceremony. “It’s hard to see what’s ahead. And then, this little bit of sunshine comes through. For me, that sunshine was my wife.”

Following the opening ceremony, there was a dove release prior to the inaugural Survivor Lap, with teams lining the track at Johansen to cheer on the survivors as they made their way around the quarter-mile oval. A bagpiper led the way and the teams joined in after the first lap.

Activities scattered throughout the day and on in to the night included live entertainment, theme laps, competitions including the popular Ms. Relay contest – with longtime Relay emcee Pete Simoncini back after a one-year break – on hand for that contest and to do interviews with all the participating teams.

The evening luminaria ceremony included a slide show with photos of those lost to the disease, those who have beaten it and those currently fighting cancer.

Teams typically have at least one member of the team on the track at all times during the event and this year also featured an extensive kids camp area with games and crafts to help keep the younger attendees busy and entertained.

Sunday’s final lap, after closing ceremonies, included each participant being able to ring the bell, symbolic of the signal for a final cancer treatment when a patient is determined to be cancer free.

Longtime Relay For Life emcee Pete Simoncini, at right, does some interviews with participants in Saturday’s Ms. Relay Pageant, with teams sending a male representative to take part, dressed for the pageantry and having to display a talent. Marg Jackson/The Leader
Serving as the keynote speaker at the 2024 Relay For Life Opening Ceremony on Saturday morning, May 18 was Patrick Shields, a two-time cancer survivor. Admitting that he didn’t know – as he was battling the disease – if he would ever get married or be able to have children, he was able to introduce his wife and their eight-week-old daughter to the crowd. Marg Jackson/The Leader