This year, Bear Creek High School hosted the American Cancer Society’s 16th-annual Stockton Relay For Life fundraising event. For the second consecutive year, I circled the date on my calendar and scribbled in “Solo 10K”. For me, the ACS Relay For Life is a “race”. To be fair to the American Cancer Society (ACS), I’m taking some liberties by calling this national fundraiser a “race”, because a race denotes a start and finish line, but it works for me. It works because I have found a way to blend my new-found passion for running with my new-found reason to Relay.
Instead, the dedicated volunteers who represent the face and the voice (and the feet) of Relay For Life will tell you that we cannot wave the checkered flag until a cure is found in the fight against cancer. Ask them to describe the significance of a 24-hour fundraising relay and you might hear, “Cancer never sleeps, so why should we?” To back it up, more than 55 Stockton area teams made a commitment to raise money and have a representative walking the track at Bear Creek High School for 24-hours straight. It’s a relay… for life.
So, can a Relay be a race if it doesn’t have a ribbon to rip at the finish line, a checkered flag, or a trophy? I’ll let you decide.
My Reason to Relay
Unlike last year, but NOT unlike the life experience of thousands of others this year, I’ve been touched – NO! hammered – by cancer. Last year, I participated because a good friend and captain of a successful Stockton Relay team (Krewe For a Cure) simply extended an invitation to participate. I was free that afternoon and needed a good run, so I did. This year, my reasons are personal; my daughter-in-law was diagnosed and continues to fight and survive leukemia, and my uncle succumbed to the illness.
I saw an ACS banner promoting Relay For Life that read, “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.” I thought to myself, “OK, I can do that.”
Survivors are inspiring people. I know this because I know a survivor personally. Her smile is genuine and infectious. She is “bite-your-bottom-lip” tough. During the Survivors Lap at the Stockton opening, I saw smiles as big as Texas. Their strength and courage help the community celebrate progress in the fight against cancer.
This year, I ran the 10K in my daughter-in-law’s honor immediately following the Survivors Lap. It seemed appropriately timed. While I ran, I thought about her journey this year and what a blessing it is to have her in the family.
Just before dark – hours after completing my 10K – I came back to the track to walk a few miles in honor of those family members I’ve lost to cancer. As I walked, I thought about my Uncle and his family. I thought about my in-laws and how their passing has affected my wife. The mood on the track was decidedly different so many hours after the celebration began. As the sun began to set, conversations were quieter, the pace was slower. There was resolve; a sort of “matter-of-factness” prevailed. The children had settled down, playing cards and table games instead of football, tag and foot races. Parents were engaging one another in conversation and consolation. I wouldn’t say the mood was somber, but reflective.
Later that night, more than 300 luminarias provided light on the track after dark, with a ceremony meant to remember those who have faced cancer. The ceremony carried a message of hope and perseverance. I could not be there for the ceremony, but I did arrange to have lumanarias lit for my mother-in-law, father-in-law, and uncle.
During my inaugural Relay experience last year, I learned a lot about “fighting back” as I ran the track. I met many dedicated volunteers, survivors, care-givers and family that seem to have their own definition of what it takes. There does seem to be one common denominator to this fight against cancer; it takes money. This is, after all, the driving force behind Relay for Life. From its humble beginnings in 1985 as a single event that raised $27,000 in Tacoma Washington, to a worldwide effort spanning more than 20 countries and raising nearly $500 million a year, it’s a fight worth fighting.
So, I’m indebted to those who joined me in the effort to fight back this year. Through your donation, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to participate. I’m enriched because of it and will run the race as long as I’m able.
Editor's note: Photo, courtesy C. Douros