“Cancer doesn’t sleep, so for one night neither do we.”
That’s how Karee Boone describes the 20-hour Relay for Life of Kent, scheduled for 6 p.m. May 30 through 2 p.m. May 31 at French Field, 10200 S.E. 256th St., Kent.
Boone, a Seattle-based community relationship manager for the American Cancer Society, has worked with volunteer organizers for the Kent Relay for Life for the past two years.
The fundraiser event for the American Cancer Society is filled with symbolism — from the track with no finish line (since there’s no end until a cure is found) to the glowing candles (shining in the darkness as tokens of hope).
The Relay starts with a Survivors’ Lap — 6 p.m. this year — during which cancer survivors take a lap of honor around the track, cheered on by friends and supporters. They are living symbols of the continuing fight against cancer.
Approximately 150 cancer survivors participated in Kent last year, Boone said.
Lining the track are the luminaria, small paper bags containing votive candles, set out in memory of a loved one lost to cancer, or in honor of someone still battling the disease.
At dusk, relay participants light the candles, illuminating the names written on each bag, and creating a glowing line around the relay track.
The luminaria ceremony is set for 10 p.m. this year.
“It really brings chills watching how many people in the crowd just cry (during the ceremony),” said Cheryl Jones, who has participated for the past two years.
Almost everyone at the Kent Relay has a personal connection to cancer; ask someone “Why are you here?” at the relay, and you’ll get a name. The name of a family member. A schoolmate. A co-worker. A friend.
According to the American Cancer Society’s Web site, one in every three Americans will be diagnosed with cancer. Of those, only 64 percent survive.
Jones and her husband, Mark, started their neighborhood relay team, the Country Club Village People, last year after losing both Mark’s father and a close neighbor to cancer.
“We kind of did it as a neighborhood thing,” said Jones of the team they pulled together just weeks before the Relay last year. She added, “We raised $3,200 just by word-of-mouth … and won Rookie Team of the Year.”
Or there’s Blayne Sanden, manager at H.D. Hotspurs Restaurant and captain of the Relay team HD’s Chicks & Pigs.
“I lost a coworker and very close friend (to cancer), and that’s kind of why we have a team of Hotspurs people,” Sanden said.
For Sanden, who had never seen cancer up close before, her friend’s death came as a painful jolt.
“There was no way in my mind that he was not going to make it…. It was really a shock to me when he didn’t. I still struggle with it,” she said.
The experience woke Sanden up to the prevalence of cancer in America, she said. “All of a sudden it seemed like it was everywhere…. It was kind of scary to me, so I was looking for a way to fight back without being a doctor. (Relay for Life) is a way to feel less helpless.”
While the event has a sober cause behind it, that doesn’t mean Relay is a sombre event — on the contrary, it’s more like a giant all-night party, with music, games and activities, as well as a number of creative team fundraisers throughout the event.
“We have a DJ for the full 20 hours that we’re out there,” said Boone. She listed off some of the wacky activities she’s seen at past Relays, including a “Mr. Relay” contest, in which some of the male Relay participants dress up as women.
As for fundraisers during the event: “People have actually sold (Plush Pippin) pies at the relay,” said Terry Wilcox, corporate sponsorship chair for the Kent relay, and longtime participant.
Wilcox also described how some teams raised money by offering wheelchair rides round the track.
“Teams come up with all kinds of creative fundraisers,” said Boone.
Most of those fundraisers take place during the months leading up to the relay: car washes, garage sales, poker runs and car shows, to name a few. Still, Wilcox said that the teams keep working towards their fundraising goals right up to the end of the Relay. (See sidebar for more details on team fundraisers in Kent.)
Relay for Life started in 1985 with the vision of a Tacoma surgeon. Dr. Gordy Klatt ran laps on a track for 24 hours straight, while friends and supporters cheered him on, or paid to join him on the track for half-hour stints. He raised $27,000 for the American Cancer Society that first year, according to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life Web site.
From a single man doing laps for the cause, Relay for Life has grown into a nationwide phenomenon.
With nearly 5,000 Relay events across the country each year, Relay for Life is now the largest nonprofit fundraiser in the world, according to Boone.
It supplies 45 percent all the funds for the American Cancer Society, which itself is the largest private source of cancer research funding in the country, according to its Web site.
In Kent, the local Relay for Life event will mark its 10th anniversary this year. Last year, the Kent Relay raised $214,000 for cancer research; this year, Boone said, the goal is $225,000.
Corporate sponsorships alone have already raised $20,500, according to Wilcox.
“Our business community is very big on giving,” she said.
The local Relay theme for 2008 is “Relay Fever.”
“Teams are definitely encouraged to come with that theme in mind” both for costumes and tent decorations, said Boone.
As of April 24, there were 56 teams — nearly 400 people — signed up for the Kent Relay.
While the sign-up date for ordering event T-shirts has passed, Boone said it’s never too late for new teams or team members to join in.
And for those who can’t start or join a team this year, Boone invited them to “still come down and check out what it’s all about.”
For more information about the Relay for Life of Kent, call 206-674-4105, 206-612-1422 or visit www.rflkent.org.
Contact staff writer Christine Shultz at 253-872-6600, ext. 5056, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Relay for Life of Kent
Starts: 6 p.m. May 30.
Ends: 2 p.m. May 31.
Where: French Field, 10200 S.E. 256th St., Kent.
Details: 206-674-4105, 206-612-1422 or www.rflkent.org.
Team fundraisers for the Kent Relay
• MultiCare Garage Sale fundraiser: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. May 3. Proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Kent. MultiCare parking lot, 222 State Ave. N, Kent.
• Garage & Bake Sale fundraiser: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. May 3. Donations welcome. Presented by Prudential’s Aggressive Cancer Kickers relay team. Proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society. Prudential Realty, 25230 104th Ave. S.E., Kent. 253-859-7450.
• Cherri’s Angels Motorcycle Poker Run: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. May 3. Ride is a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Kent. Cost: $10 donation per poker hand. Starts from Renton Motorcycles, 3701 E. Valley Highway, Renton. Ends at Pat’s Bar and Grill, 114 N. Railroad Ave., Kent. 253-804-0870 or 206-679-0372.
• Cruzin for a Cure Classic Car Show: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. May 17. Show features competitions for all types of cars, as well as door prizes, food and car parade. Proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Kent. Registration: $20 in advance; $25 on the day. 1119 Central Ave. S., Kent. 253-335-5223 or 253-630-1828.