Weather that was hot – but not unbearable – was the backdrop as nearly 300 participants gathered at Escalon High School’s Engel Field for the fifth annual Relay For Life of Escalon.
The goal for the 24-hour signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society was $48,000 and, with money raised prior to the event and more than $10,000 brought in during the June 27-28 Relay itself, this year saw the effort raise $51,124.
“Escalon has always made its goal or exceeded it,” said chair Arianna Kennedy, a member of the Wings of Hope team, in saluting the teams and participants on Sunday morning.
The 24 hours of Relay started off with Opening Ceremonies at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, June 27 on the high school track, with cancer survivors and caregivers walking the first lap around, then other team members joining in. The premise of the ACS event is to keep at least one person from each team on the track at all times, for the full 24-hour period, signifying that cancer never sleeps.
Survivors are the honored guests of the day, with each team campsite offering a special treat, the survivors also receiving a free dinner courtesy of the Escalon Sunrise Rotary Club, and recognized for their determination, bravery, strength and spirit throughout the course of the 24 hours.
Many teams also have cancer survivors as team members; others walk in memory of those they have lost to the disease.
Entertainment was provided throughout the day, with movies and special events overnight, along with a variety of theme laps and activities by teams scattered through the 24 hours.
“We commemorate those we have lost, we celebrate the ones who have survived,” Kennedy told participants at Saturday morning’s opening as they prepared for the 24 hours ahead. “I can’t imagine not doing Relay and I hope you all feel how much Relay impacts this community.”
For one team, the Escalon High School team, this year had special meaning, as recently graduated senior Adam Roberson was diagnosed with colon cancer during the year. He was there for Relay, taking on the role of team captain for the EHS Team 2, the original team growing large enough to break into two teams. Roberson joined the ranks of the survivors and was among those taking that inaugural lap around the track, circling the field where he made memories as a member of the Cougar football team.
Participating teams were Beat the C, Bippity Boppity Boo to Cancer, Cancer Stampers, Cancerous Suckitous, Cougar Town, Dana’s Dairygirl Dominators (Enterprise 4-H) – which also had two teams, Escalon High School (two teams), Jammin’ 4 Life, Jungle Warriors (two teams), Kick Cancer, Nuts for Life, Saron Lutheran Church, and Wings of Hope (two teams).
Providing live musical entertainment during the event were the Babiarz Scott Band, Aaron Brown, Josh Rosenblum Band, DJ Def Jeff and The New Past, featuring Aaron Brown and Mike Martin.
A frozen T-shirt contest, corn hole tournament, sack race, karate and Zumba demonstrations, a hula class, musical chairs, piñata demolition, soccer clinic, bra decorating contest, toilet paper fashion show and more were offered as well, keeping those participants not on the track busy throughout the day and night.
A coordinated balloon release early Saturday evening saw team members write messages to loved ones lost to the disease and they were released simultaneously, floating into a darkening sky.
Cancer survivor Josh Huebner was guest speaker for the evening luminaria ceremony, noting that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in December, 2010 and it spread to his abdomen, requiring surgery and a rigorous treatment including chemotherapy.
“I had a three-year-old son and a one-year-old son, they were opening Christmas presents and there I was, on the couch, I could hardly move,” he said.
He went on to praise his wife, Ana, for being the family’s rock, managing to take care of their two children and him as he underwent an aggressive treatment that killed off good cells as well as bad.
“Without her, I don’t know where I’d be,” Huebner said.
He also pointed to the love and support of his parents, his in-laws, family, friends and the community for pulling together to help them get through.
“Thirty years ago, this cancer probably would have killed me,” he said, explaining that advances in research and treatment had made all the difference, including the ability to welcome a third child.
“Eighteen months ago, we were blessed with a little girl the doctors told us we would never have,” he said. “Two months ago, I got the all clear. This is about all of you that are here … your efforts are saving lives and I think I’m an example of that.”