It all began in Tacoma, Washington in 1985. The first Relay for Life only had one runner, but Dr. Gordy Klatt raised over $27,000 for the American Cancer Society. Over the next few years, the event became a phenomenon that now spans the globe in participation. The Relay for Life has now raised over $4 billion to fight cancer.
Lisa Vargas, the event chair for the 17th annual Wellington Relay for Life, hopes to continue the tradition in a more local fashion. She became involved with the event three years ago. "It just seemed like a really good cause," she said. "I've lost too many friends to cancer and it seemed like the right thing to do."
However, this year's relay will be a bit different. Instead of participators being on the track for 12 hours, the relay has been shortened to just six. "We found that some relays were losing support and teams, because they didn't really want to spend the whole night out there," Vargas said.
It seems to have been the right decision, as the participating teams have doubled to 14 from the previous year. Despite the involvement this year, the past years weren't as populated. Vargas only had six teams sign up her first year. "When I came on, [Relay for Life] had really kind of fallen down," she said. "We spent a year just rebuilding the whole event, but I've got a fantastic community and they've all worked really hard to get it where it is now."
There's even a preschool team signed up among the 14 other groups, with a team name of 'When I Grow Up, There's Going to Be a Cure.' "I think that's going to be very inspiring," said Vargas. "It's going to be a lot of fun seeing those kids out there."
The relay is competitive, but not in the traditional sense. Teams can earn awards for the amount of money they raise, as well as vouchers that can be traded in for t-shirts, sweatshirts, coolers or other relay souvenirs. "The more money they raise, the better the prizes are," said Vargas. "And of course, the teams get a lot of recognition too."
Just like the participants compete to raise money, the Wellington branch of the relay competes for nominations, awards and recognition. Last year, Vargas and her organizing team were nominated for the All-America award and earned a five-star relay status for the second year running. "Not every relay makes it to five-star recognition," said Vargas. "We were really proud to have done that."
Despite all the accolades that can be earned by both teams and the organization, the opening ceremony of the event reminds everyone of why they're really participating. The first lap is completed by cancer survivors and their caregivers, and several teams are comprised of members that are currently battling cancer. "It's really inspiring to see all of those people, especially those that have been survivors long term," said Vargas. "That's when you remember why you're doing it and why you're there."
Page 2 of 2 - The Relay for Life will commence at 6 p.m. on June 8 at the middle school track and will continue on until midnight. All are encouraged to come and participate, even if they're not affiliated with a team or organization. "We just want everyone to come down and have a good time," said Vargas.
Dalton Carver is a freelance writer for the Wellington Daily News. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.