The city of Saratoga Springs has been home to a Relay For Life event for the last nine years. The overnight event is a walk-a-thon designed to raise money for the American Cancer Society. More important, say event organizers and participants, it is a celebration of life and time to honor cancer survivors.
The Relay For Life is about fundraising, but it is also spiritual. People get emotional and really get involved, said Keith Davidson, regional director of the American Cancer Society.
This year’s event was held June 9-10 at the Eastside Recreation grounds on Lake Avenue. Davidson said the Relay enjoyed phenomenal growth this year, bringing in $121,643 in donations, a figure that tops last years by about $20,000.
Funds were raised by the 643 participants who walked. They obtained donations from families and friends who sponsored them, asked businesses for donations, and sold luminara bags. The bags, with candles inside, honor a cancer survivor or memorialize a person who has lost their life to cancer. The bags were lit and surrounded the area in which participants walked.
The event began with the recognition of 107 local cancer survivors. Following tradition, they alone walked the first lap and were joined by team members and other participants thereafter.
`This year it poured on the Relay,` said Davidson. `Life is not all sunny skies, 75 degrees with a gentle breeze. It rained that night but the spirits weren’t dampened.`
The money raised will support a variety of American Cancer Society interests. Davidson said the four major focuses are programs of research, education, advocacy, and services. While funding is done on a national level, local examples of the use of those funds are the $1 million research grant to the Albany Medical College and regularly offered services titled `Look Good, Feel Better` and `Man to Man.` The funds also support a toll-free 24-hour hotline for patients and families seeking additional information or support. The hotline number is 1-800-ACS-2345 and information about the American Cancer Society can be found at www.cancer.org.
`You can’t put a number on the spirit and emotion,` said Davidson. `That’s what people take away from it.`
Davidson noted that area young people played a role in the success of this year’s event saying that they turned out in high numbers.
`Kids today have to have a community service commitment,` said Davidson of college applications. `This event satisfies that objective, but you have a whole lot of fun doing it.`
Indeed, two chemistry teachers from Saratoga Springs High School have generated a great deal of interest among their students. This was the third year they have organized a team of students, staff and faculty to participate in the Saratoga Relay For Life. This year’s team included over 70 students and more than 25 faculty and staff. The group raised just shy of $13,000.
The Saratoga Blue Streaks Relay For Life team, led by teachers Cakte Stephen and Chris DeLorenzo, began their fundraising efforts by sponsoring a dance-a-thon this past spring. That alone generated $7,000 in donations.
`They’re the kind of teachers that are so passionate about everything they do,` said Jessica Shulte, a senior who participated in the Relay for Life Event. `You automatically want to be involved. You say ‘Oh, I want to be part of this.’ `
Shulte has participated in the Relay twice. She said she’ll continue to participate in the Relay annually and look for events in the greater Boston area where she will be attending college in the fall.
`I think people hear the word cancer and assume its going to be sad and depressing,` said Shulte. She encourages others to take part in next year’s event, saying, `If you’re involved you know how great it is. But if you’ve never been then you don’t know. It’s a celebration of life. It’s uplifting.`
Davidson agreed adding that people like to be involved in Relay events because, `This is a proactive thing they can do.`
`Tears are shed but it is all for a good cause,` summed up Shulte. `People are doing what they can to fight this disease.` “