Photo: Patrick McMenamin
Last Saturday night, over 400 people pitched tents on Wakefield High School’s soccer field and spent the night walking laps around the track. The walk was a benefit for the American Cancer Society, who organizes these “Relays for Life” across the country as a way to fundraise, raise awareness, and build a supporting community for those with cancer or those whose loved ones have the disease.
Participants formed teams, each with its own campsite and country (although, this is used loosely, as one team chose a Hawaiian theme) to compete in the “Olympics.” Each team competed to raise money for the event with winners being crowned the next morning at closing ceremonies. The NRECA took top honors with over $27,000 donated, according to the event website.
According to the “Relay for Life” tradition, each of the 46 teams had a walker on the track at all times. One walker passed the team’s baton to the next walker all night from five in the evening to seven in the morning.
The walking was interrupted for a participant-created slideshow of those lost to the disease and speeches about coping with cancer. It was during these times that the idea of a cancer community seemed most palpable and vital.
“It was really moving to see this community and for there to be such an opportunity to reach out to others,” said Sarah Echols, of the Washington-Lee High School team. She is the daughter of a cancer survivor. She said she “had no idea there was such a powerful community before ‘Relay for Life.’”
The night was littered with activities. In Mr. Relay, each team had a man dress in drag and compete for funds. The Luminaria ceremony placed tea light candles in small paper bags around the track. Names of cancer survivors and victims were written on the bags.
Each team was also encouraged to come up with creative fundraising ideas for the event with one man even going as far as to create a fake prison. Like a highway patrolman, he pulled-over walkers then set bail. Any bail paid became a donation.
At the opening ceremonies, Team Pixie Dust’s captain spoke about her team’s 10 Relay goal and about acting as a caregiver for her mother. After the ceremony, there was a survivor’s walk to start the relay and the rest of the participants gathered around the track to cheer them on.