By Jackie HOUCHIN
Despite predictions of rain, the morning of Saturday, April 9 dawned sunny on the Verdugo Hills High School athletic field where scores of volunteers for the American Cancer Society, bundled in jackets and scarves to combat the morning chill, arrived to set up booths and hang banners and signs for the opening of the second annual Sunland-Tujunga 24-hour Relay For Life.
Musicians tested the sound system, the aroma of coffee and breakfast filled the air (donated by Sunland Starbucks and Eat ‘em Up Catering), and participants of all ages lined up to register and pick up their event T-shirts.
The three aspects of Relay – Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back! – were represented by special ACS tents provided at no cost by Bonner Rentals. Survivors were honored with gift bags, treats, and purple (for hope) T-shirts. The Fight Back tent challenged and educated visitors on nutrition, exercise, healthy lifestyles and current legislation. The Kids’ Corner tent offered crafts and activities for kids of all ages.
At the Luminaria tent, guests purchased and decorated white paper sacks in honor of loved ones lost to cancer. These were placed around the track in the evening, weighted with donated can goods (later given to the S-T Food Bank), then lit with candles, donated by PartyLite for the Memorial Lap.
Twenty-two relay teams erected display tents around the school’s track featuring posters, activities, and homemade goodies and gifts, all designed to raise awareness and funds to help people in the S-T community continue their fight against cancer.
The top fundraising team was “The Walking Stiffz,” whose members are part of the same named rock ‘n roll band, also provided music for the event. The Stiffz raised over $6,000 through personal contact, music gigs, and gifts for sale. Other team champs were “Quiet, Hair Growing,” “Fashion Institute of Design/Merchandise,” and “Tack-Y.”
At 9 a.m. on Saturday, after an enthusiastic welcome to all, many heartfelt thanks to the event sponsors, and the singing of the national anthem by Rocky Livingstone, more than 40 cancer survivors and their caretakers, all wearing purple shirts, led the volunteers on the first lap around the track.
Throughout the next 24-hours, hundreds of participants helped raise funds by walking or running the course. Some logged only a few painful circuits, others seemed inspired and tireless as they marched around the track. Two ambitious teens vowed to go 30 miles (120 laps). Athletic types ran with iPods and ear-buds, young girls with heads together giggled and texted, moms pushed strollers, pulled wagons or patiently held the hands of wide-eyed toddlers.
As participants completed each lap many stopped by the Super Heroes team tent where for a dollar they could purchase a lanyard and then add a colorful bead for every lap completed.
Saturday night at 9 p.m., Heather Burgess called volunteers and participants together around the stage for the very solemn Luminaria Ceremony. Individual candles were distributed and lighted. Those with candles in the front rows turned to touch their wick to those behind them until everyone held a flame. Flood lights were doused and darkness descended. Only the glow from these candles, the 215 illuminated memorial bags around the track, and the outlined letters H-O-P-E remained.
Speaker Danella Putna gave a heart-wrenching yet hopeful account of her battle with cancer. Amber Orozco sang “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. While Debra Delahunty played a haunting melody on the flute, Burgess circulated through the crowd encouraging each person to speak the name of a loved one lost to cancer. Tears flowed and voices quavered in this moving ceremony. Then the hushed crowd moved to the track for the Memorial Lap. Many paused to read the names written on the glowing sacks.
As the S-T Relay For Life wound to a close on Sunday morning, Staff Chair Sonia Lopez again thanked everyone involved, announcing that the amount raised thus far was $31,000. (Additional donations will be collected through August 31.) Event Chair Ann-Marie Dodge announced the names of the top fundraisers and invited everyone to become a volunteer for next year’s Relay event.
Fight Back Chair Sheryl Buhr, with the help of 11 poster carrying kids, explained again how to battle the number two killer of Americans – by staying well, getting well, and finding cures – and how the American Cancer Society can help. The three banners – Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back! – led participants around the final lap.
One Day. One Night. One Community. One Fight. The 70-plus Relays held each year in L.A. County are the American Cancer Society’s primary fundraising events. The ACS offers many ways to assist those battling with cancer and their caregivers. For information anytime, call (800) 227-2345 or visit http://www.cancer.org/.
The 11th annual Foothills Relay For Life in the Crescenta Valley takes place May 14-15, at Clark Magnet High School. Civic leader Chris Waldheim has had a part in the Relay since its inception when the ACS approached the Montrose Chamber about holding an event in the area. Originally at La Cañada High, then Crescenta Valley High, the event marks its seventh year at Clark Magnet.
Waldheim said that he believes Relays are important because they allow the community to get together and support friends and family who are facing and fighting the disease. He’s stayed energized for the 11 years by remembering the fragility of life and how quickly cancer can destroy it.
To learn more on how to participate in the upcoming Foothills Relay For Life, visit the website http://www.FoothillsRelayForLife.com.