This year’s American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Western Palm Beach County will be held Saturday, March 30 from 3 to 11 p.m. at the South Florida Fairgrounds.
American Cancer Society Community Development Manager Lisa Noel explained that this annual, grassroots, community-based event is an opportunity to raise awareness and funds in the fight against cancer.
One man’s walk has resulted in 34 years of fundraising and awareness activities. Relay for Life began in May 1985. Dr. Gordon Klatt of Tacoma, Wash., started the event by walking a track there for 24 hours. Next, the lights or luminaries were added, and the growth of the Relay for Life was on its way.
Today, more than 5,000 events are held around the world. Teams from Wellington, Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee Groves and The Acreage make up the western communities’ event, which is the largest of three regional walks. “We have more than 70 teams participating in the walk,” Noel said.
The three-event strategy pared down 16 previous local events three years ago. This was done to make the Relay for Life walks more community-wide events to attract the public. “We always wanted the community to come out, so there is lots of entertainment, activities, music and dance performances,” Noel said.
The Relay for Life will begin with an opening ceremony that recognizes all who contribute to the success of the event and honors all who have been touched by cancer. “There are 150 to 200 survivors and caregivers who will be participating,” Noel said.
Survivors and caregivers walk in silence after the opening ceremony, in observance of the sacrifices, strength and courage it takes to battle cancer. “It is a moving ceremony,” Noel said.
A somber luminaria lighting is held after nightfall, with each light representing one of those affected directly by the disease. Whether signifying a life lost to cancer, a survivor or someone still fighting, the ceremony offers comfort and hope.
The closing ceremony switches gears to celebrate current accomplishments and the commitment of the continuing work that needs to be done moving forward.
During the walk, as walkers cover the track, other teammates often socialize and visit other teams’ tents to participate in raffles and other fundraising activities. Each team must have someone on the track at all times.
“There is a lip-sync contest and a Mr. Relay race,” Noel said. “This is part of our Tender, Love & Care initiative that helps women who may need wigs or mastectomy garments during their treatment.”
Men wear women’s clothing to walk their laps during this portion of the event.
Dignitaries from local communities are expected to participate, with Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig being a vocal walker.
“We’re going to walk laps from 3 to 11 p.m. raising funds for the American Cancer Society,” said Gerwig, who added that she hopes many in the community will come out to watch, as she has committed to walk the entire time if her team raises $10,000. “We raised about $12,400 last time, so that is the appropriate target.”
Gerwig tries to do something special to participate in the Relay for Life each year.
“In other years I’ve done things like bake fudge or Bundt cakes for people who donated, but I’ve been so busy with the League of Cities and a new grandbaby that I had to step up at the end to meet the challenge,” Gerwig said. “I’m saying, ‘make me walk,’ where I walk the entire time if we raise $10,000.”
Most of all, Gerwig wants the entire community to get into the Relay for Life spirit.
“It’s a great time to come out and celebrate survivors,” she said. “The American Cancer Society does so many good things with research and rides to therapy, wig therapy, even makeup treatments to make a woman feel better about her outside while her insides are getting well. It’s a great event to come out for and support the community.”
For more information on joining the relay as a participant, survivor or caregiver, visit www.relayforlife.org/westernpbfl.com or call Community Development Manager Lisa Noel at (561) 614-2835.