Relay for Life is a festival of hope run against the killer that is cancer

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:13

    AUGUSTA-The 2004 Relay for Life of Augusta kicked off June 19 at 2:30 p.m. at the Sussex County Fairgrounds under cloudy skies that threatened to repeat last year's deluge and evacuation. The prospect, however, did not seem to daunt the men and women wearing purple T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Survivor," as they set off on their "Victory Lap" around the Relay track. These Sussex County residents had already faced down a disease that is more formidable than some nasty weather, and they were here with family and friends to raise funds for research and awareness of cancer. The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life is an international event that has been held annually since 1985. Last year, there were about 3,200 Relay events, according to Lynn Dailey of the Center for Prevention and Counseling in Newton, who has volunteered at the event since 2002. Last year, the Sussex County event raised about $43,000. This year, the Relay committee dedicated an award to the memory of Mariann Berhman, a committee member who passed away from cancer. The award was presented to her fiancé, Don Touw, of Montague, who volunteered as a team captain. "She's brought so many people here, and I'm just one of them," said Touw as he took his turn walking around the track. The event is a 24-hour walking event in which various teams take turns walking around the track. Some dress in costume, others choose other methods of circulation. Krissie O'Grady, of Boonton, ran around the track as the afternoon fell. O'Grady, who ran her first marathon at the 2003 U.S. Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., was at the event in honor of her second cousin Bradley Ann Heinke. Bradley Ann, who is four years old, was diagnosed with acute lymphoplastic leukemia when she was two, according to Jeanne Heinke, High Point High School junior class advisor and grandmother of Bradley Ann. "Bradley Ann is the one we feel hope with," said Heinke. Each team took a certain theme. "The Lively Librarians" were a team of employees and friends from the Sussex County Library System. A group of students from Vernon Township High School dressed as pirates and called themselves "The Flying Dutchmen." Other teams wore Hawaiian shirts, T-shirts and ties, clown costumes and decorated their camp sites to match. Throughout the day, Relayers young and old took part in different activities such as hula hooping, bouncing around in the "Bounce House," trying their luck in the dunk tank, perusing the merchandise of several vendors and drying to stay dry at the balloon toss. Northeast Search and Rescue from the Delaware Water Gap brought several rescue dogs to demonstrate at the event. Later that event, the Lara Yael Percussione Duo kicked up the rhythm of the evening with African-themed drum pieces. As the evening drew on, volunteers began setting out luminarias, paper bags weighted with sand and holding small votive candles. The lights were purchased by various event-goers, and each one was dedicated the memory of a cancer victim or survivors. At 10:00 p.m., the entire campsite gathered in the main tent for the luminaria ceremony. Moments of silence for cancer victims, survivors and anyone whose lives had been touched by cancer were observed. Relay committee member Heather Strout, an English teacher at High Point Regional High School, read a prose poem, "Strands," written for her mother, Karen Strout, who was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer in 2002. Strout wrote of her childhood memories of her mother's long hair, then compared it to her mother's "shorter, uncertain hair," when dealing with chemotherapy treatments. She concluded: "My mother's face does not have cancer and will never fall away."