UNION — A family devastated by repeated battles with cancer helped start Friday’s Relay for Life fundraising event with the father reminding the participants that their efforts can literally save lives.
Relay for Life is an annual, locally-organized fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. It began in 1985 when Dr. Gordon “Gordy” Klatt walked for 24 hours around the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Tacoma. Klatt walked a total of 83.6 miles raising $27,000 to help in the fight against cancer. The event inspired Klatt to found Relay for Life which has since become a nationwide effort that has raised $5 billion to save the lives of cancer patients.
Among the cancer patients whose lives have been saved as a result of the efforts of Relay for Life over the past 30 years years is Jay Slitzer, the morning anchor of WLOS-TV in Asheville, NC. Slitzer, who has twice battled testicular cancer, lost his wife, the former Kelly McKeown of Union, to leukemia. Their son, Malachi, is currently battling brain cancer.
Slitzer and his son were the Celebrity Starters at Friday’s Relay for Life event at the Union County Fairgrounds. Together they cut the ribbon signaling the start of the Survivors Lap in which cancer survivors walk around the track. The Survivor Lap is the first lap of the event and kick’s off the evening’s Relay for Life activities.
Prior to cutting the ribbon, Slitzer addressed the crowd, urging everyone involved with Relay for Life to never forget that their efforts do make a difference.
“Don’t even think Relay doesn’t matter,” Slitzer said. “Money raised from Relay events in the late nineties paid for the invention and perfection of the chemotherapy that saved my life.”
Each Relay for Life sees teams organized by local businesses, schools, churches, clubs and other groups who compete to see who can raise the most money, all of which goes to help in the fight against cancer. Each team sets up a campsite at the fairgrounds, raises a banner, and has a theme for their efforts which include walking around the track raising money based on their trips around the track throughout the night.
Union County Relay for Life Committee Co-Chair Beth Lancaster said Monday that the teams raised a total of $66,129.74 or more than three-quarters of the $83,000 goal set for Union County by the American Cancer Society. Lancaster added that while the American Cancer Society’s goal for the county is $83,000, the Union County Relay for Life Committee’s annual goal is $100,000.
“That’s when you are a scientist requesting a grant from the American Cancer Society,” Lancaster said. “The grants begin at $100,000 and then goes up.”
Friday’s total is just under two-thirds of the local goal of $100,000 and fundraising efforts are continuing in an effort to meet that goal. The deadline for this year’s fundraising activities is Aug. 31.
The competition to see which team can raise the most money is part of the larger friendly rivalry of the participating teams to also see which has the best campsite, banner, and theme. The teams are divided into Newcomers and Veterans with the former made up of teams who have been participating in Relay for Life for less than two years and the latter for those who have been participating for more than two years.
Lancaster said that this year’s winners in the Newcomers Division are:
• Best Banner — Bethel Baptist Church
• Best Campsite — Hailey’s Hope
• Best Theme — Bethel Baptist Church
• Most Money Raised — Kickin’ Cancer
This year’s winners in the Veterans Division are:
• Best Banner — Bogansville United Methodist Church
• Best Campsite — Red Spot
• Best Theme — Monarch Elementary School
• Most Money Raised — Dollar General
Lancaster said that Kickin’ Cancer raised $4,006.21 while Dollar General raised $11,193.14.
These are the themes of each of the teams including those that won Best Theme:
• “I Only Want To See You Cancer Free In The Purple Rain” — Bethel Baptist Church
• “Washing Out Cancer” — Hailey’s Hope
• “Cancer Thou Art Banished From This Monarch” — Monarch Elementary School
• “We’re United For A Cure” — Bogansville United Methodist Church
• “Rolling Over Cancer” — Red Spot
• “Stepping 4 A Cure” — Dollar General
Friday’s Relay for Life event also had prizes for those attending to watch and cheer the teams on. Lancaster said the following persons won the following prizes:
• Gravitopia Gift Cards — Cheryl Scurry and James Batchelor
• A TV provided by Kickin’ Cancer — Mary Owens
• A Vacation Trip — Justin Williams
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.