The theme for the 2013 American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Relay for Life was “fight back” and Decatur County residents showed up in spades to do their part.
The Relay for Life is an annual ACS event that has been taking place since 1986 nationally and locally since 1998. Participants form teams with the goal of raising at least $100 per person. The money raised is given to the ACS and is used for cancer research, support, and awareness. The relay itself is a 24-hour event where teams walk in shifts around a track.
The Decatur County Relay for Life took place at the fairgrounds and someone from each team was walking at all times for the entire event. The walking continues through the night because cancer never sleeps, and neither does the fight against it, according to the ACS.
There were 27 teams participating in the relay this year, with 226 registered team members. All the teams, friends, family, and general supporters of the relay made quite a large crowd at the Decatur County fairgrounds this weekend.
The opening ceremony, which was held at the horse corral, was conducted by the Tree City Saddle Club. The riders carried the American flag, the Indiana state flag, and the Relay for Life flag while performing a synchronized ride. Hailey Allen sang the national anthem and Emily Greiwe read the Relay for Life mission statement.
Afterward, a thank you to all current and past members of the military was said and a moment of silence for all those who can no longer fight was observed. A member of the Tree City Saddle Club led a riderless horse onto the field to represent those who have fallen.
The walking was kicked off with the survivor lap, which was led by all those in attendance that have survived cancer. One cancer survivor wasn’t able to complete the lap on her own, but relay committee members were quick to come to her aid. There were also rocking chairs available for those who chose to rock their laps.
Following the survivor lap, there was a caregiver lap, walked by those who provided or have provided care to someone with cancer. During this lap, several people were heard saying, “Do you know someone with cancer? Then you’re a caregiver, get out here.”
After the caregiver lap, all members of every team were invited to walk the opening lap before the regular walking schedule began, with each team member walking in half hour shifts so no one would be overwhelmed. Throughout the event, there was a D.J., Jeremy Stallsmith of Big Dawg Sound, who provided music and announcements, in addition to offering games and prizes for relay participants.
While team members walked, there was a series of survivor challenges that took place around the clock. Challenges included a relay race of exercises completed by two member teams, a race to dig the marshmallows out of a piece of chocolate without using hands; “junk in the trunk” where players had to shake their hips until they could free all the ping pong balls from a tissue box taped to their waist, and a challenge where players had to melt a one foot by one foot block of ice to retrieve the words frozen inside and assemble a message, among several others. The challenges served as a way to keep relayers involved and having fun, even when they weren’t walking.
After the sun set, the luminaria ceremony began. During the ceremony, Mark Keilor, who wrote a song called “Grieving Hearts” for the relay, sang, as did the St. Mary’s Youth Choir. More than 300 luminarias lined the track, honoring and remembering all those who have been touched by cancer. Readers may remember the spotlight on the Smyrna Strollers team, who were trying to sell 59 luminarias to honor Judy Witkemper. They far surpassed their goal, lining a full corner and much of one side of the track with their tribute. The Smyrna Strollers were honored with the “Spirit of the Relay” award for their dedication to Judy.
Relay participants raised $32,000 and that number is far from final according to Decatur County Relay for Life chairperson, Vickie Emberton. Many teams are still turning in money and the final total is expected to continue growing for several days at least.
Emberton is a two time cancer survivor herself and believes that it’s appropriate to have a cancer survivor lead the fight in Decatur County. “The reason I relay is my grandmother and myself. This is the most amazing support system possible. When you relay, you share every other person’s journey. It lets you know you’re not alone. Cancer hasn’t been beaten yet, but we’ll keep fighting and it will be. When it is, we will celebrate.”
The spirit of fighting back was certainly in evidence. In one of the relay’s culminating events, fighters from Smith Martial Arts stepped into a boxing ring assembled in the center of the track to represent different types of cancer. Relayers were invited to strap on a pair of boxing gloves and take the fight to cancer in one minute matches. Fighters of all ages stepped into the ring to fight back against cancer. The men from Smith Martial Arts were great sports, even kneeling down to be the same height as children and taking the punches like champs. Chris “Kileon” England and Wayne Emberton provided music during the sparring matches.
The closing ceremony consisted of thanking everyone who attended and giving out awards for individual teams and contests.
Emberton is optimistic about next year’s Relay for Life. “We’re always hoping it will be bigger. Just like with a child, you want the best for it. We are in a building mode right now and I think next year will be better and we’ll raise even more money.”
Emerton reported that 18 of the 27 teams walking this year have already registered for next to walk in the 2014 Relay for Life. Considering that there were only 18 teams at the 2012 relay, Emberton’s predictions certainly seem likely. To join or start a team, please visit www.relayforlife.org.
More photos from this event can be found at www.greensburgdailynews.smugmug.com.
Contact: Amanda Browning 812-663-3111 x7004