Summer arrived just in time for the start of the Relay For Life of Escalon on Saturday, with temperatures that day peaking in the mid-90s.
But the heat didn’t do anything to melt the enthusiasm and drive of the teams and participants that helped to raise nearly $41,000 in the fight against cancer.
With opening ceremonies at 8:30 a.m. Saturday followed by the Survivor Lap at 9 a.m., the 24 hours that made up relay also included some special speakers, lots of fun activities, music, demonstrations, food, fundraising, theme laps and more.
Cancer survivors carrying the banner around the track at Escalon High School were joined by their caregivers, with other members of the various teams lining the track to cheer, applaud and sometimes blow bubbles at the survivors as they made their way around the track.
There were some returning teams, some new teams and more than enough to keep everyone busy for the 24-hour event.
As teams gathered to start the day, first-year chair and three-year committee member Megan McNinch was happy to get things going.
“I think we have something very special in Escalon,” said McNinch as teams prepared to dive in to the 24-hour marathon. “It seems just as special as the first time we did it.
“This is one day for our tiny town to make a difference.”
Demonstrations during the day included a youth soccer clinic put on by members of team Cancerous Suckitous – which also won the award for Best Decorated Campsite with a patriotic theme – performances by local singers and routines by dancers from Powerhouse Dance, along with some Zumba workouts with the crowd invited to join in.
Firefighters, who had their team for a second year, hosed down the track a few times during the day on Saturday, with the second one also including a dousing of some excited young relayers, happy for the welcome spray of water.
The Escalon Lions Club served up breakfast on Saturday and the Escalon Sunrise Rotary Club provided dinner for survivors and their caregivers on Saturday night.
“The dinner was good and we really appreciate it,” said survivor Leo Van Vliet, eating with wife Margaret, also a cancer survivor, and Betty Van Weerdhuizen.
“This is my first relay,” Leo added, noting that the camaraderie he felt with other cancer survivors was a bonus. He and wife Margaret celebrated 48 years of marriage on June 25.
Margaret was pleased to see so many people involved, from a high school team to local businesses.
“It shows the real heart of people,” she said.
New team The Weight Room hosted a tough as nails boot camp for those willing to give it a try in the late afternoon heat on Saturday and the early evening brought a coordinated balloon release with more than 100 balloons with messages attached sent skyward, the messages to loved ones lost to cancer.
Guest speakers at the opening ceremonies and the evening luminaria touched on their battles with cancer and the journey that brought them to relay, both getting involved. After the video that featured cancer survivors, caregivers and photos of those lost to the disease, all Relay participants took handheld candles and did a lap around the track, taking time to look at the luminaria bags, illuminated In Honor or In Memory of those who have battled the disease.
Top three fundraising teams, by the time it was all said and done, were Saron Lutheran Church in third place with over $5,000; Connie’s Crusaders in second with $6,600-plus and the top team was Nuts for Life, coming in at over $8,000.
Escalon Firefighters were honored with the Most Informational Fight Back Message at their campsite and the Most Inspirational Team was Enterprise 4-H.
More than $46,000 was brought in and after expenses, the amount announced on Sunday morning was $40,932.
More could still come in, with additional fundraisers possible through the end of August. Look for additional individual and team honors in the July 10 issue of The Times, with some totals still being determined at press time for this week’s issue.
McNinch, in announcing the nearly $41,000 take for the American Cancer Society at Sunday’s closing ceremonies, said she couldn’t have been prouder to be a part of the successful event. She also praised the survivors for “not giving up” and the caregivers for their “selfless support and love” when caring for a cancer patient.
“Together we are making a huge impact against cancer,” she said.