By Mary O’KEEFE
Cancer never sleeps. Rain or shine, a person, a family, deals with this disease. It was with that thought in mind that team members, volunteers and representatives from the American Cancer Society put on their rain boots and coats and began transforming Clark Magnet High School’s soccer field into a 24-hour campground filled with colorful tents and pop-ups. This was all to celebrate cancer survivors, honor caregivers and remember those who have been taken by this never-resting disease.
The 2016 Relay for Life of the Foothills was held on Saturday and Sunday but it really began on Friday when participants and organizers brought in the equipment for the event.
As rain fell, everyone worked together to help set up the stage, pitch tents, create booths – each representing a fight against a specific type of cancer – and power up the event. By early Saturday morning the event was ready to go and from
9 a.m. on Saturday to 9 a.m. on Sunday, walkers lapped the track. At lunch, veterans from the American Legion and VFW were on hand to flip burgers. Most of the food was donated and organized by Jean Maluccio.
Relay for Life of the Foothills has been a tradition for 15 years. Teams are formed and members raise funds and then participate by making sure that for 24 hours someone from their team is on the track. One of the bright spots on Saturday was when Congressman Adam Schiff stopped by during the ceremony to show his support and urge walkers onward for the 24 hours.
Throughout Relay there is entertainment and a lot of time to network with neighbors and friends. For many this event is personal. They know someone who has been touched by cancer. The question heard repeatedly throughout the event is, “Why do you relay?”
For Chelsey Olsen, the answer to why she relays is simple; she does it for her dad John.
“In 2007, Dad had caught wind of [Relay for Life of the Foothills] and he was interested,” she said. “He had just been diagnosed with brain cancer.”
John wanted to get involved, so he and a friend formed LCPC (La Crescenta Presbyterian Church) Halos and joined the event. Two months after his first Relay he passed away but his spirit continues as his family and his church fill the track.
John was a longtime marathoner, so each year his daughters, Chelsey and Jenna, walk 26.2 miles to honor their dad.
“It has become a good part of our fundraising. We always make a point to take pictures of our beads and track our walk so people know,” Chelsey said. “We actually completed 26.2 miles.”
After each lap completed team members add a bead to a strand.
Chelsey added this is not an easy walk but when she and her sister think of what those diagnosed with cancer go through the steps get easier and they are more determined.
“It tests my body but the pain I am feeling is nothing compared to what people who struggle with cancer are facing,” she said.
This year, because of the rain and dark skies, the sisters wanted to bring a little humor and color to the event so in addition to their rain ponchos they walked with inflatable swim rings around their waists.
“We wanted to make it fun and to lift spirits,” she said.
Chelsey said her dad lived by a motto that this year they spelled out in their beads: “Enjoy the process.” To her dad, that meant it was important to take things one day at a time and to realize how blessed you are.
One of the more emotional portions of the event is the luminaria ceremony. Throughout the day bags the size of lunch bags are decorated to remember those who passed or to send encouraging messages to those still fighting. At 9 p.m. on Saturday night those bags line the track and a local Girl Scout Troop puts candles in them then lights each one.
This year’s ceremony was extremely personal as classmates and the family of Beatrice Regner shared the story of their loss. Regner graduated from Clark Magnet High School in 2007. She had relayed while at high school and had continued to support the event. Unfortunately, she recently lost her battle to cancer but her family and friends wanted to share her story, light a candle and walk in her memory.
“It is [strange] to think that we used to work Relay and now we are here for Beatrice,” said a friend.
As of press time the event had raised $45,096.63. There were 26 teams and over 200 participants. The top individual fundraisers were: (1) Ed Waldheim, (2) Max Sucee and (3) Chelsey Queen. The top team fundraisers were: (1) Team Clean Sweep/J’s Maids J’s Maintenance, (2) LCPC Halos (Chelsey and Jenna’s dad’s team) (3) Prom Plus Club.
Those who would still like to donate can do so by visiting www.relayforlifeofthefootills.org and donating to a specific team or to the event. Donations continue through August.