by Eric Stearley
In 1996, local residents got together and organized Wabash County’s first annual Relay for Life, raising just over $2,000 for the American Cancer Society. Saturday, Sept. 14, Paradise Springs Historical Park hosted Wabash’s 18th consecutive Relay for Life, raising nearly $50,000 to fight the disease.
As confetti filled the air, the relay kicked off with the survivor lap. Nearly 100 cancer survivors walked triumphantly around the relay track as friends and family cheered them on. Jennifer Denney sang “You Raise Me Up” as a sea of purple encircled the park.
“The survivors wear purple, which represents all cancers,” said Amanda Wiley, one of two survivor chairs for this year’s event.
Twenty-eight years ago, Dr. Gordy Klatt raised $27,000 to fight the disease by walking and running around a track in Tacoma, Wash. for 24 hours straight. From one man’s idea, the Relay For Life has grown into a worldwide event, which has raised more than $5 billion for the American Cancer Society to date.
This year’s theme was “Relay Around the World.” Twenty-five teams registered for this year’s event, and each team represented a different country. Many teams took the opportunity to dress up for the theme. Team members took turns walking the track in 15-minute intervals. Teams had booths set up where they brought in money for the relay. Ford Meter Box, playing the part of Mexico, sold Walking Tacos to those at the event. Beacon Credit Union, playing Italy, sold pizza bites. At one corner of the track, Jami Hashbarger offered chair massages.
Scheduled events included: a fashion show, where contestants collected donations as onlookers voted on the winner with their donations; a group picture of all the survivors, and musical performances.
Another way organizers found to bring in a large portion of the money raised at the event is through the silent auction. Members of the community donated items to the auction, which are then bid on by people at the event. Each team also donated a country themed basket. Jan Mattern, who has worked the event in Wabash every year since its start, brought the auction to the local relay five years ago.
“There are literally hundreds of items,” Mattern said.
Among the items auctioned off was a rocking horse valued at $300. The Saw Dust Gang donated a large wooden bowl, a “one of a kind” piece turned out of a giant ash burl. A week at a Florida condo was auctioned off for $825. The auction brought in more than $4,000 each of the last two years.
“I pull all my best friends in for the relay,” said Mattern, who lost both her mother and father to cancer. “To me it’s just an act of love.”
Aaron Holley, public relations chairmen for the event, was the Master of Ceremonies. Aaron, who has been with the relay for five years, lost his paternal grandfather, Wabash resident Charlie Holley, to lung cancer at age 50. He has an aunt who survived breast cancer, and his maternal grandmother survived colon cancer. A member of Team Beacon, Holley said it was ultimately his coworkers at the bank who got him involved.
Holley, who was at the event for the full 24 hours, said that this year, they were trying something new by having the event in September, rather than in June, as it has been in past years. He explained that they wanted it to be a little cooler out for participants, especially those who are battling cancer during the event.
Lynne Schafer, who has been fighting cancer since May 2012, put her laps in at the event on Saturday, despite her chemotherapy session earlier in the day. Schafer explained that she’s lost her hair twice, and that this is the third type of chemotherapy she has endured, but she’s optimistic and happy to be at the event.
“I feel good, you know. I get tired sometimes, but ya, I feel alright.”
Holley said that another motivation for moving the date of the event was getting the area schools involved. As MC, he introduced the crowd to Southwood Elementary School student Delayna Rigney and the Northfield High School Jazz Band Friday night, and the Wabash High School Choir Saturday.
Northfield sent its own team to the event, Jamaica Me Crazy. Holley and the other organizers try to get as many groups, involved in the event as possible.
“That’s what I love. It gets this community together, but at the same time, it supports a global cause,” Holley said.
When the sunset on the event Friday night, the park remained alight. A Luminaria Ceremony was held around the track as a memorial. The names of those who have lost their battles with cancer scrolled across a projector screen in the Luminaria pavilion. Teams and individuals purchased white paper bags for $10 to decorate in memory of victims. Tea lights were placed in the bags shortly after dark, and these worked as lanterns lighting the way for the late-night walkers. Kim Galligan sang and played guitar to start Ceremony. Afterward, Staircase Wit performed.
The overnight event allowed people to camp at the historical park. Between walking shifts, team members gathered around campfires and shared survival stories and memories of loved ones.
“It got cold the last couple hours,” Holley said. When he checked the thermometer at 6:30 a.m. it was 45 degrees outside.
Though they were cold Saturday morning, participants stuck it out for a mutt strut, where relayers walked the track with their pets. Following this was a corn hole tournament, a fight back ceremony, and a victory lap.
Even after the closing ceremony, several people continued to walk around the track. Among these were Team Hill members Tiffany Key, Paige Wilson, and Jealousy Keza. All three girls sang during the event as part of Symphonic Voices, a group of vocalists from the Wabash High School Choir. All three girls have family members who have been affected by cancer. The group sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” among other songs. All three were excited to be a part of the event.
“I love it,” Keza said. “I think it’s a really great thing for our community to do. It affects all of us so it’s a great thing. It brings us together.”
“This is huge!” Wilson added.
Fifty thousand dollars is huge. Every dollar of the money raised goes to the American Cancer Society to help fund research being conducted in an effort to make everyone a survivor and put an end to the growing casualty count. Right now, the ACS is doing research into the cause of postpartum breast cancer and the links between diabetes, insulin, and colon cancer.
This will not be the last year for the relay in Wabash. The organizers would like to thank everyone who came out this year and urge anyone and everyone to come out and get involved in next year’s events.