Relay For Life offers symbol of hope

Money raised helps cancer patients, funds research to find cures

Photo for the Mirror by Isaac Ritchey A group of walkers takes part in the 25th Relay For Life of Blair County Friday at Mansion Park. This year’s event drew 43 teams and 533 registered participants.

Celebration. This is a word that has rung out over Mansion Park since

11 a.m. Friday.

This weekend, Blair County is celebrating its 25th American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Blair County. The event began Friday and will conclude at 11 a.m. today.

Relay For Life is an event that started 35 years ago, in 1987. The tradition came to Blair County in 1995, when 21 teams assembled to raise $36,619.

Since then, the event has grown tremendously. This year, 43 teams and 533 registered participants lined the Mansion Park track, alongside community members who turned out to support the event.

The mission of Relay For Life is to “save lives, celebrate lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer.” During the 24-hour celebration, survivors, those still battling cancer and those who have lost their battles to cancer are celebrated, supported and honored.

All the money raised during Relay For Life helps to fund cancer research, in addition to providing assistance and resources for cancer patients.

“Our goal is to eliminate some of the barriers patients face when they are faced with a cancer diagnosis,” said Shannon Warburton, Ameri­can Cancer Society Senior Community Develop­ment Manager.

Each year, Relay For Life honors an ambassador — someone who is a local cancer survivor.

This year, as a celebration of the 25th anniversary, all the ambassadors from the past 25 years were invited to be honored.

Those who were able to attend were recognized during the Friday evening ceremonies, when they were welcomed onto the track to share a quote.

After the recognition was the survivors lap, when all the survivors in attendance were invited to walk a lap around the track together.

“The thing I enjoy the most is the survivor walk,” said Sue Boland, the event leader. “When all the survivors from past years come out together, it really makes you feel like we are making a difference, seeing everyone come back.”

During the event, people of all ages have a chance to get involved in supporting the fight against cancer. Teams walk around the track for the full 24 hours and take part in several fun, themed laps, such as a red, white and blue lap, a bunny hop lap, a painted hair lap and a glow lap.

This year, in honor of 25 years of Relay in Blair County, participants lined the inside of the track with quarters.

In the area behind the visitors bleachers, the teams set up tents in “Fundraiser Alley,” where they sold merchandise or raffled off prizes to raise money.

There were also activities and games for the kids in attendance, including bubbles, coloring, face painting and a wood workshop.

On Friday night, all of the survivors were invited to bring a guest and attend a free dinner from Olive Garden, served by cheerleaders from Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School.

With so many volunteers, survivors, families and members of the community, there is no question that Relay For Life has brought people together.

“I’ve met so many people through Relay,” Connie McKnight, a cancer survivor and the 2017 ambassador, said. “You meet people from every facet of life.”

Warburton said that the event is fueled by the efforts of the volunteers.

“It is completely volunteer run,” Warburton said. “We have an amazing group of volunteers who make this possible.”

For the many survivors, the event is not only a celebration, but a symbol of hope.

“It feels like people really want to make a difference and help fight this disease,” McKnight said. “To see so many other survivors only gives you more hope.”