With many taking to the track with heavy hearts this year, the sixth annual Relay For Life of Escalon nonetheless raised more than $44,000 in the fight against cancer.
Locals were mourning two recent losses, that of six-year-old Jacob ‘Jake’ Castellanos and Sandy Anderson, 39, a longtime teacher and Escalon resident. Both passed away within the last couple of weeks after battling cancer. Their loss and the memory of others that have been lost to the disease are what drove the nearly 200 participants on a dozen teams to rally for the cause despite the triple digit heat.
Event chair Arianna Kennedy welcomed all those in attendance and said she and her ‘Wings of Hope’ team and family relay in memory of her aunt, Crystal (Pearce) Wendland and they will continue to fight for a cure.
“She would be proud of us,” Kennedy said. “Let’s stop cancer in its tracks.”
This year, with survivors leading the way, members from each team joined in the inaugural lap as soon as the survivors passed by their campsite. That made for a unifying feeling from the start, with everyone on the track to begin the event at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 25.
Teams had a variety of ‘Fight Back’ messages at their campsites, with information about specific types of cancers, the treatments and how to protect yourself against them. This year’s theme was the Olympics, so each team also represented a country and many decorated their booths with the color scheme and served food from their chosen country.
The Cool Runnings team from Jamaica offered bobsled rides around the track for a dollar, the Spirit of Saron had Swedish meatballs as a food favorite, while Ireland and China were a couple of the other countries represented.
Along the way there were also a number of musical performers that took to the stage to entertain, DJ services were provided by the husband-wife team of Mark and Ginny Carpenter from Merced, who handle many Relays throughout the Central Valley. A soccer clinic, obstacle course, sack races, dance routine, various fun competitions including bra decorating, water balloon toss, frozen T-shirt contest and musical chairs also helped fill the hours.
Despite the heat, participants made it through, keeping sunscreen on and taking full advantage of water stations around the track.
A new feature this year saw many participants ‘jailed’ and having to make bail. Escalon Police Department officer Mikale Bell volunteered his time to ‘arrest’ people (someone had paid $5 to have them arrested) and then escorted them to a holding area where they had to then get in touch with friends and family to get some cash to ‘bail out.’ The first-time effort raised $577 for this year’s Relay in a little over an hour, with well over a dozen people ‘arrested’ for the cause.
Shelley the Pistachio, a mascot for the Modesto Nuts, also put in an appearance and spent some time at each team campsite. An evening balloon release was followed by a mother-child dance, then the luminaria ceremony and the lighting of the luminaria bags around the track.
Survivors were also treated to dinner and some fun activities in an area set aside for them and their caregivers, honored as special guests at the event.
By Sunday morning, the total raised was more than $43,880 and a check of the website on Tuesday – with some money still coming in – showed the total had gone over the $44,000 mark.
Top individual fundraiser was Sandy Bomer and top fundraising team was Nuts For Life. Cancerous Suckitous had the Best Fight Back Message, Cougar Town was voted Most Inspirational Team and Cool Runnings had the Best Decorated Campsite. A Walk to Remember was voted Best New Team.
Kennedy, in summing up the event prior to the final lap on Sunday morning, praised the committee members, team captains and the participants for their hard work and dedication.
“This is going to help those people who are battling,” she said.