Relay for Life shines through the storm

Messenger photos by Jeff Pfeil

Traditionally, the Relay For Life starts with a cancer survivors’ lap at 6 p.m. around the track to officially open the Relay for Life.  Although the lap took place at 8 p.m. rather than 6 p.m. due to a rain storm that moved in around 5:30, the spirits of Relay participants were high all night long. Geoff DeLong and Denise Houser carried the banner on the survivors’ lap.

(From left) Decked out in their lifeguard theme attire, Gina Newsome, Lindsay Huffer and Tori Newsome lead their Angels of Hope team from Lafayette United Methodist Church around the track. Luckily, they didn’t need to save anyone throughout the two thunderstorms that  came through the area 12 hours apart at 5:30 p.m. June 13 and in the wee hours of the morning on June 14. The Angels of Hope won second place with their Team Spirit Stick and second place for the Best Team Theme. They also collected $13,525.05 to be the third top team for fund raisers. Amy’s Angels was the top fundraising teams with $35,691.

Jess Gross, a London resident and chairperson of the 2008 Relay For Life, was still smiling Saturday morning.
The “cancer tug of war team” puts up a fight but is ultimately defeated by the survivors team. The skit was part of closing cere-monies June 14 at the Madison County Relay For Life at West Jefferson High School.
Gage Farmer checks out his new face painting while his sister, Gracie, stands nearby.  Antoinette Yuhas from the Madison County-London City Health Department is the face painter. This was one of the many activities available for children at the Relay.

The best word to describe this year’s Madison County Relay For Life is perseverance.

When a major storm hit 20 minutes before the outdoor event started at 6 p.m. June 13 and again at 4 a.m., organizers and participants adapted to the conditions and kept things rolling—to great success.

“Just watching people react to what was going on and jump in to help was definitely encouraging. It was like, ‘No, we’re still going to do this,” said Relay chairperson Jess Gross.

The event, which raises money for the American Cancer Society, took place at West Jefferson High School.

Because a Relay isn’t a Relay unless it lasts 18 hours, Gross and her committee were determined to start on time. They held an impromptu opening ceremony inside the high school at 6 p.m. When the weather cleared an hour later, everybody was back out on the track, walking laps and conducting on-site fundraisers. The 4 a.m. storm that forced walkers back indoors only lasted 30 minutes.

“The American Cancer Society’s regional team chose Madison County’s Relay as the one they were going to participate in this year. They told us several times that most Relays that experience that kind of bad weather are a total wash. They were impressed with how well we did,” Gross said.

As of closing ceremonies on June 14, the Madison County Relay had raised over $153,000. That’s $11,000 more than the total reported at the end of last year’s Relay weekend.

Cancer Prevention Study

The Madison County Relay was one of only three sites in Ohio chosen this year to recruit volunteers for a long-term cancer prevention study (CPS-3).

The goal was to recruit 190 participants. A total of 174 signed up, and organizers were thrilled.

“Relays of the same size with good weather averaged 150 across the nation. Ones that experienced bad weather typically met half their goal,” said Sue Pairan, income development director for the American Cancer Society’s Ohio Division.

“I was beyond impressed with the dedication of people who wanted to make sure they got enrolled.”

What It’s All About

The hundreds of people who participated in Relay and poured so much energy into raising money and awareness in the fight against cancer also took time to honor those who weather the storm metaphorically.

“Instead of our typical closing ceremony where we go right into awards, we had a new format this year,” said Pairan. It completed the embodiment of the American Cancer Society’s motto for this year’s Relay season: “Celebrate, remember, and fight back.”

“We celebrated our survivors, remembered with luminaries, and for the fight-back part, we asked people to fill out pledge cards at the closing, saying what they would do to fight the disease,” Pairan explained.

In conjunction with the pledges, Annie Switalski read a speech that her sister, Dode McVey, wrote. McVey and her husband, Tod Elfrink, have a son, Nate, 5, who has been diagnosed for the second time with a brain tumor. McVey knew she would cry in telling his story, so her sister told it for her.

“There wasn’t a dry eye afterwards,” Pairan said. “It was about why we can never give up.”

The American Cancer Society’s Ohio Division taped McVey’s speech and a skit organizers performed afterwards to send to the Cancer Society’s national headquar-ters. Madison County was the only Relay at which a “fight back” tape was made.

For Gross, who was chairing the Relay for the first time, the memorable moments can all be summed up in the words of a friend of hers who experienced Relay for the first time this year.

“She came up to me in the middle of the luminary ceremony just bawling and said, ‘Thanks for inviting me to this,’ ” Gross said. “In the middle of me worrying about details, like counting extension cords, it was very refreshing to be reminded of what it’s all about.”

Awards for Fundraising

At the end of each Relay, teams are recognized for the efforts they put forth in raising money and Relay spirit. As for the fundraising figures, many individuals and teams are continuing to raise money, so the totals are subject to change.

Tucker Fry and Chuck Farmer (in front) and Vicki Germann and Tonia Fry (in back) take their first team lap during opening ceremonies aboard their Beverly Hillbillies truck.  Team Farmer won first place for the best team theme, “Cancer Clamp-ettes,” and second place for best campsite.
Missy Jester (seated, left) gives a blood sample for a cancer prevention study. Kym Young and Michelle Woodson were part of the staff that helped to process the 174 people who signed up at the Relay to take part in the study.
Jose Espitia from The Salon Design Team cuts Tracy Sweigart hair. Tracy’s hair was donated  to Locks of Love, which provides hair pieces to finan-cially disadvantaged children who are suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.

• Teams who raised the most money

1. Amie’s Angels—$35,691

2. London United Methodist Church—$20,722

3. Angels of Hope—$13,785

• Youth teams who raised the most money

1. Double L II 4-H—$2,023

2. Madison-Plains FFA—$667

• Top individual fundraisers

1. Wally Sickles of Amie’s Angels—$30,235

2. Jill Edwards of Battling Braithwaites—$7,076

3. Rachel Houser of London United Methodist Church—$6,388

• Silver Level Teams ($2,500-$4,999)

London Elementary School ($4,607)

Jefferson Industries ($3,529)

Party Lite Illuminators ($3,305)

Team Farmer ($2,815 prior to golf outing)

St. John’s Lutheran Army ($2,683)

Stanley Electric ($2,568)

• Gold Level Teams ($5,000-$9,999)

Run For Hope ($8,764)

Nate’s Mates ($7,037)

Showa Aluminum ($6,234)

American Cancer Society – Ohio Division ($5,800)

• Platinum Level Teams ($10,000-$19,999)

Angels of Hope ($13,785)

Battling Braithwaites ($10,000)

• Diamond Level Team ($20,000-$29,999)

London First United Methodist Church ($20,722)

• Purple Level Team ($30,000 or more)

Amie’s Angels ($35,691)

Spirit Awards

• Shirley M. Byerly Award

Lori Rinehart, a member of the Angels of Hope Team, is the 2008 recipient of this award.

“We can ask Lori to do anything in the world, and she never says ‘no.’ She had the flu and still was there at Relay; she never complained,” said Pairan.

• Best Team Theme

Team Farmer (Beverly Hillbillies)

• Best Campsite

Party Lite Illuminators

• Best Spirit Stick

Run For Hope

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