(T-G File Photo by John I. Carney) [Order this photo]
Most people are familiar with the concept of a fund-raising run or walk -- a volunteer participates in some challenging event, and friends and neighbors give to charity on that walker's behalf. I think I thought Relay For Life was something like that.
It's a little like that, but not much.
(T-G File Photo by John I. Carney)
The actual Relay event -- which will be held June 1-2 at Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center -- is more like a festival, with concessions, an auction, a tractor pull and various other activities. There are also more serious moments -- ceremonies honoring cancer survivors and remembering those who lost the fight. The slogan of Relay is "Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back," and that summarizes the various facets that make Relay what it is.
It's not just for those who have signed up to walk, and if only the registered walkers show up for the event it won't be considered successful.
Here's what happens: 18 teams are expected to participate on Relay night. For months now, those teams have been raising money in a variety of ways. There have been team fund-raisers and individual walkers have asked for contributions. There have also been county-wide fundraisers such as the "Cancer Sucks!" Crawfish Festival and Hee Haw & Howdy.
On Relay night, those teams will be expected to have at least one person on the track at all times, for the 18-hour duration of the event. The teams can set up whatever schedules, or shifts, or rotation they like. It's not necessary for any individual team member to remain on-site for the whole event.
Each team has its own home base around the Ag Center track. That base is called a "campsite." It's not only a place for team members to sit down when not walking, it also functions as a concession stand, serving food, selling souvenirs or offering activities like carnival games, face painting or a bouncy house.
The Relay begins at 6 p.m. June 1 with a "survivor lap." Those who have survived cancer take a lap around the track to the applause of the crowd. There's an introductory lap with each team marching as a group. Winners of a Relay beauty pageant hosted by one of the teams will be recognized. Then things settle in to the normal routine, with team members taking turns on the track.
(T-G File Photo by John I. Carney)
At 9 p.m., walking pauses for the luminaria ceremony. You may have seen Relay For Life public service announcements featuring the luminaria, which have become a symbol for the Relay. A luminaria is simply a candle inside a paper bag. At a Relay event, donors can purchase a luminaria and decorate it in honor or memory of a loved one. There are also honorary or memorial tiki-style torches with engraved name plates.
During the luminaria ceremony, all of the electric lights will be extinguished and the ag center will be lit only by the luminaria and torches. A recitation invites the crowd to honor and remember those who have been affected by cancer.
The tractor pull will suspend action during the luminaria ceremony in order to preserve its respectful nature.
Like the luminaria ceremony, the overnight schedule is a traditional part of the event, wherever it's held. It's meant to be symbolic of the dark night of a cancer patient's struggle, and the emergence into either remission or, barring that, at least an end to pain.
As the night wears on, the spectators and members of the public go home, and in the wee hours of the morning it's mostly team members at the track. To try to keep their energy up, there are party games and other activities, including an enormous game of musical chairs all around the ag center track.
Relay For Life events vary in length from community to community. This year, Bedford County is holding an 18-hour event, as opposed to the 12-hour events held here in the past. Organizers are hoping for a second wave of public attendance on Saturday morning. Many of the team concession stands which offered dinner or snack food on Friday night will re-open with breakfast food on Saturday.
The Mid State Cloggers and vocalist Kacey Smith will perform on Saturday morning. There will be a live auction at 10 a.m. featuring themed gift baskets created by individual Relay teams.
There's a "fight back" ceremony near the end of the Relay, with participants challenged to make lifestyle changes which will help prevent cancer and to support research and education efforts.
The event will end at noon June 2. Preliminary team and individual awards will be announced, although teams have until the end of August to keep raising funds.
In May 1985, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Tacoma, Wash., wanted to promote the work of the American Cancer Society. He decided he would run for 24 hours. He ran more than 83 miles during that 24 hour period, according to the ACS website. Nearly 300 friends paid to join him on the track for half-hour increments, and he raised $27,000.
Klatt began thinking of ways he could turn this into a more formalized event. He thought about an event where runners and walkers could participate in teams, taking turns on the track the way his friends had. The "City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer," which is considered the very first Relay For Life, was born the following year. Since that time, Relay For Life events have raised $4.5 billion.
The American Cancer Society announced May 1 that Klatt has stomach cancer. He is fighting the disease and plans to attend his local Relay event June 8 in Tacoma. ACS officials point to Klatt as evidence that one person can make a huge difference in the fight against cancer.
For more information about Bedford County's Relay For Life event, or the program, go to relayforlife.org/bedfordtn or call committee chair Samantha Chamblee at (931) 703-7267.
NOTE: Carney is a member of the Relay For Life organizational committee in Bedford County.