Except for a strange early afternoon wind that acted like a mini twister and uprooted a handful of tents in a corner of the soccer field, the 2012 Oakdale edition of Relay For Life can go down as a success.
Each year, each Relay, comes complete with its own nuances, its high and low points, its memorable moments. Aside from the money raised, which goes toward education, research, advocacy and patient services, the Relay For Life is a 24-hour period that unites relayers in a common cause, the battle against cancer.
We have covered this event for years and been involved in it with a participating team since the second year it was in Oakdale. This year was Oakdale’s 11th Relay and again, ‘The Leadin’ Ladies and Gents’ were represented.
On our team this year, former Oakdale-Riverbank sports reporter Jagada Chambers (who now works for the Manteca Bulletin, which is also in our Morris Newspaper group in California) and his wife Dawn, along with their young son Jyriaun, a purple shirt wearer.
Purple shirts at Relay For Life designate survivors and Jyriaun is in the midst of his own cancer battle. Doing well right now but still facing future treatment, Jyriaun is just 17 months old. We welcomed the opportunity to represent him as we walked our laps on the track and I saw more than one luminaria bag, which line the track and light the way at night, in his honor.
We invited the Chambers family to be a part of our team and they readily accepted, Jagada and Dawn both admitting they had known what Relay For Life was about but never really spending any length of time at an event prior to this year.
They arrived just in time to join in the ‘Survivor Lap’ that gets the Relay started on Saturday morning and were able to push Jyriaun around the track in his stroller, clad in his many-sizes-too-big purple shirt. Even a youth ‘small’ is much too big for a 17-month-old.
We weren’t sure how long they would be able to stay; Jagada said it depended on how well Jyriaun was feeling and how he handled being out there among all the noise, festivities and hundreds of people. We needn’t have worried; Jyriaun took it all in, loving every minute of the excitement and virtually non-stop activity that is Relay For Life.
Every year, the survivors are our special guests at Relay; they are the ones we do this for. It’s easy to say that and intellectually, I know that’s true. But looking in the eyes of a 17-month-old, seeing those eyes light up when a shy smile spreads across his face … and realizing that you are there fighting for HIM … that really brings it all into focus.
We spend 24 hours together to fight cancer, a disease that doesn’t care about your age or your job or whether your favorite color is green or your eyes are blue. Cancer is a disease that turns lives upside down and our goal at Relay For Life is to help turn things back around as best we can.
Jyriaun enjoyed a tri tip sandwich with his mom, loved sitting in the grassy area by our ‘Leadin’ Ladies and Gents’ booth and playing with a few items we had around the campsite. He had a great day and served as my inspiration just by being there.
Jagada could only stay for part of the day – he had to head off to photograph the Valley Oak League swimming finals – but he, too, found enough good things going on at Relay to likely bring him back next year.
It was actually pretty fitting that Manteca was staging its Relay For Life this past weekend, too, as both communities banded together this past football season at an Oakdale vs. Manteca game, raising funds to help with Jyriaun’s battle.
Funds for Relay can be collected through the end of August for this year, so the $161,000 raised as of the close of the on-site event on Sunday morning will grow, adding that much more ammunition to the fight.
Like all years, there was music, food, dancing, middle of the night karaoke, theme laps, and fun. There was a time for remembering those lost, at the evening luminaria ceremony, and there was a time for rallying on Sunday morning, congratulating teams for their accomplishments this year.
It’s exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
It’ll take me a few days to recover; I’m not as young as I used to be …
Mark the calendar, though. Escalon will relay June 2-3 and Riverbank will join the fight July 28-29. Hope to see you there.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times and The Oakdale Leader and assistant editor for The Riverbank News. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.