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Full Speed Ahead For ACS Relay
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Committees are falling into place, dates are set and Escalon will host its first Relay for Life next June.

Event chairperson is Jeff Fernandes, who will be attending the annual 'Relay Summit' in Los Angeles this weekend, expecting to come back even more fired up about the American Cancer Society's signature fundraising event than he is already.

"Literally a month ago, I got an email from Sheila (Doberenz) from the American Cancer Society asking 'would you be interested?' in doing an Escalon relay," Fernandes explained.

Employed with the Oakdale Joint Unified School District and working at Oakdale High School, Fernandes has attended the Oakdale Relay in the past, as it is staged on the Oakdale High campus. He has gotten more involved in the last couple of years and said a sequence of events this past Relay solidified his dedication to the event.

A close family friend, who had been diagnosed with cancer previously, had gone through treatment and was in remission, able to attend the Oakdale event.

"When I saw Dave, he arrived at the Relay in street clothes, his shoulders were kind of down, you could tell he was uncomfortable," Fernandes explained, noting that his friend had kept to himself a lot about his cancer and didn't elaborate on his condition or treatment.

Throughout the day, however, surrounded by people just like himself -cancer survivors - Fernandes said he saw a marked change in his friend Dave.

"I just watched Dave rise up, you could see his shoulders come up, he's a survivor now ... I watched him talking to other survivors, he put on a 'Survivor' shirt," Fernandes said of Dave putting on the signature purple shirt that signifies survivorship. "Then he was walking, walking, walking the track, there was just a glow to him. To see his whole persona change, his spirits were raised so much.

"When I saw that, I really wanted to get involved."

Fernandes didn't realize getting 'involved' would mean agreeing to serve as chairperson for Escalon's first-ever Relay for Life, but it's something he is proud to do.

"Let's fight back right now so another family doesn't have to suffer," he said.

Escalon's inaugural Relay for Life will be June 4 and 5, 2011. Meetings to coordinate the event are tentatively planned for the third Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Escalon library.

Teams involved in the relay must have at least one team member on the 'track' at all times, with enough members to cover the 24-hour relay period. Offered traditionally from early Saturday morning to early Sunday morning, the 24-hour period is designed to illustrate that 'cancer never sleeps' so those participating in relay dedicate a full 24-hour period to the event. Along the way, there are team fundraisers on site, along with entertainment, a variety of activities and 'Fight Back' events for fun and cancer awareness.

Fernandes said a good leadership team is being assembled for the event, with most of the committee chair positions filled. Volunteers are still needed to help with the various committees, which range from Team Development to Luminaria to Survivorship, and all volunteers are welcome. Anyone interested in learning more about the Escalon relay can contact Fernandes at 595-4192 or attend a monthly meeting. Luminaria chairperson Liz Lee of Escalon is also working on a slide show for the June relay and is looking for photos of cancer patients and their caregivers to utilize in the program.

The committee members will be out and about in the community, Fernandes added, popping up at such events as Friday night football games, the citywide yard sale, and more.

"We're going to be handing out information, being seen, getting teams going," he said.

The official 'kick off' for the Escalon relay is planned during the annual Christmas on Main celebration hosted by the Escalon Chamber of Commerce in December, when Fernandes and others will take the stage in the city's Main Street Park to offer information and encourage participation.

"We're all new at it," Fernandes said of the group filling the leadership roles. "But we've had a great community response, so let's do it."