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Escalons Annual Relay For Life Provides Smiles, Tears And Hope
For just $1 per lap, riders could be pushed around the track at Escalon High School in this bobsled as part of the fundraising activities by the Cancer Smashers team at the 2017 Relay For Life of Escalon over the weekend. Marg Jackson/The Times

Over $38,000 – and counting – was raised for the 2017 Relay For Life of Escalon, with teams gathering this past weekend on the campus of Escalon High School for the 24-hour signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society.

Teams ranged from families to high school students, business associates to 4-H kids, all taking part in the 24-hour event to fight back against cancer.

Along the way, there were inspirational messages of hope from the mother of a young brain tumor survivor, a balloon release, fun activities, food, music and more. There were also some tears shed during the Saturday evening luminaria ceremony, which included a video, some photos of those lost to the disease, some photos of those still waging the war.

Keynote speaker for the ceremony was Tonia Reyes. Her daughter, Faith, a fifth grader at Collegeville Elementary School, was diagnosed last July with a brain tumor that they later learned was cancerous. She spoke of the family’s journey and the support they received from the American Cancer Society along with the love and support from the community.

“Our hearts stopped,” Reyes said of when the family got the crushing news. “It was almost as if I was standing miles away … my daughter’s life flashed in front of me. I couldn’t get it to register.”

Once it did register and the family’s cancer fighting journey began, Reyes said she, her husband and Faith’s twin sister, Destiny, vowed to get Faith through it together. But, as is often the case, it was the cancer patient herself who provided the glue.

“We all gained strength from Faith,” she explained, noting that when her daughter finally came home from the hospital, she was in a wheelchair, but that didn’t deter her.

“Faith never once worried about what other people thought,” Reyes said. “Faith showed us the meaning of strength and what it was to be a true warrior.”

She also praised the staff and students at Collegeville Elementary for helping the family tremendously and said that while Faith’s challenges are not over, “nothing will stop her.”

Reyes also offered thanks to those taking part in the 24-hour event, many spending the night and some staying up the full 24 hours, taking turn walking laps around the track to signify that cancer never sleeps.

“Your passion has brought you here today,” Reyes said. “We all have one more lap in us.”

There was plenty of time for fun, as well as the touching moments, during the Relay, with sack races, piñata bashing, bobsled rides and a new ‘dungeon’ for capturing Relayers, part of a fundraising effort by Team Cancerous Suckitous.

At the Saturday morning opening ceremonies, cancer survivor Lee McNinch offered a few words of encouragement to those getting ready for the 24-hour event.

“Hope is always there,” she said. “Hope never goes away.”

Longtime Escalon resident Barb Willis also offered information about her experiences as a Road to Recovery volunteer driver, helping cancer patients get to and from treatment and doctor’s appointments.

The DJ team of Mark and Ginny Carpenter of Merced returned for another year and kept the tunes flowing when there weren’t special activities or other musical groups taking the stage.

The Saturday evening balloon release was also followed by a special mother-child dance, with many Relay participants taking time to dance with their moms on the infield at the football field.

And while the temperatures on Saturday soared past 95 degrees, the Relay participants took it in stride, keeping up the energy throughout the event. By the Sunday morning closing ceremonies, the total raised had gone past $38,000 and some special awards were presented.

The best Fight Back message award went to Cougar Town, with the best Decorated Campsite award given to Cancerous Suckitous. Best New Team was Stepping Up and the Top Fundraising Team was Nuts For Life. Second place fundraising award went to Cancer Stampers-Team ETC ETC and third place fundraising team was Wings of Hope. Most Spirited award went to the Escalon 4-H team.

Top three individual fundraisers were Sandy Bomer, Suzanne Longstreth and Jackie Sappenfield.