Relay for Life: A family festival

Friday, June 5, 2015

Organizers of the American Cancer Society Relay For Life in Bedford County say that potential visitors should think of it as a festival -- with concessions, games and attractions for the kids.

Yes, the event is also an overnight fund-raising walk, with 14 teams of participants, plus the organizing committee, who've been signed up for months. But if only those registered participants show up, organizing committee chairs Jennifer Smith and Sharon Wachala say they'd be disappointed.

"We want people to come out Friday night and have a great time," said Smith. "Our teams have been working on plenty of great concessions, and fun activities."

The event

Relay For Life will take place from 6 tonight to 6 a.m. Saturday on the horse show ring at Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center on Midland Road.

Naturally, the prime time for visitors is on Friday evening, but team members will be on the track throughout the wee hours of Saturday morning.

Each team agrees to have someone walking on the track at any given time throughout the 12-hour event. The overnight schedule symbolizes the passage of a cancer patient through struggle into relief.

For a good cause

The American Cancer Society uses the funds raised for research, education and patient services. The cancer society operates a 24-hour information line for cancer patients (800-227-2345) as well as a network of Hope Lodge facilities, including one in Nashville, which offer free lodging to out-of-town patients undergoing cancer treatment.

The event has several traditional moments which are enjoyed by team members and visitors alike.

The opening ceremony, at 6 p.m. on Friday night, includes a ceremonial first lap of the track by all cancer survivors in attendance. That's followed by a caregiver lap, including anyone present who has cared for a cancer patient. Then the teams are introduced and the walking begins in earnest.

Luminaria

At 9 p.m., the highlight of the Relay is the luminaria ceremony. Luminaria -- candles inside sand-filled paper bags -- are sold as a fund-raiser, and each luminary is personalized with the name of a cancer patient, living or dead, chosen by the purchaser.

The luminaria are set up around the walking track and are lit in the minutes prior to the ceremony. When the ceremony begins, electric lights are turned off and the track is lit only by the candles. Special music and recitations honor those who have been lost to cancer, and there will be a release of LED-lit helium balloons into the night sky.

All night long

During the overnight hours, there will be picnic-style games to keep up the energy and spirits of those in attendance, including a giant game of musical chairs around the track.

The participating teams -- including the Times-Gazette's own "Press Power" team -- have been raising money for months, in advance of Relay, and they raise additional funds during the event with their concessions.