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San Joaquin County teams on track at Relay For Life
Team MLB, with members primarily from Ripon, Escalon and Tracy, had the winning entry in the early morning ‘Newspaper Fashion Show’ by crafting a unique outfit using only old newspapers and duct tape. The winning team got to take a victory lap around the track about 5:45 a.m. Sunday, May 19. Marg Jackson/The Times

Participants on teams from San Joaquin County communities including Escalon, Ripon and Tracy were among those joining the fight against cancer, during the annual Relay For Life of Greater Stanislaus County the weekend of May 18 and 19.

With over $125,000 raised by the time for closing ceremonies on Sunday, May 19, the 24-hour event met with success.

The multi-city, multi-county combined regional event to raise funds for the American Cancer Society drew hundreds of participants and dozens of teams to Johansen High School in Modesto.

It was a quick turnaround time from the 2023 to the 2024 event, as teams were at John Thurman Field in Modesto the last day of September and first day of October in 2023. The decision to move back to a spring Relay and return to Johansen – where the Modesto event had been in years past – meant a shorter time frame for fundraising and getting teams together.

There are still a couple of months in the ACS fundraising year, so officials are anticipating reaching the goal of $175,000 set for this year. Presenting sponsor again this year was ConAgra Brands.

The 24-hour Relay ran from 9 a.m. Saturday, May 18 to 9 a.m. Sunday, May 19. Opening ceremony speaker Patrick Shields, a two-time cancer survivor, was diagnosed as a teenager. Now, married and working as a Field Representative for Stanislaus County District 4 Supervisor Mani Grewal, Shields and his wife just celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter.

He said battling cancer twice, as a young man, he wasn’t sure what the future would hold. But what he learned, after going through chemotherapy and radiation, was that for him, treatment and its side effects wasn’t what troubled him most.

“The hardest part was living as a survivor; every day waking up, wondering if I’m going to get another phone call,” he said. “Every day wondering what my life is going to look like. Will I get married? Will I graduate from college? Will I have children? Will I live to see 30? These things constantly going through your mind; as a young man, 19, 20 years old, I didn’t know how to handle that. I struggled, I really, really, really struggled. Fighting the idea that I have to do things today because tomorrow’s not promised for me and living, almost recklessly, after getting a third chance at life.”

He said he came to think of his cancer as a “cloudy time” in his life.

“We have moments in our life that are cloudy, that are dark, that are very hard to see,” Shields told those at the opening ceremony. “It’s hard to see what’s ahead. And then, this little bit of sunshine comes through. For me, that sunshine was my wife.”

Following the opening ceremony, there was a dove release prior to the inaugural Survivor Lap, with teams lining the track at Johansen to cheer on the survivors as they made their way around the quarter-mile oval. A bagpiper led the way and the teams joined in after the first lap.

Activities scattered throughout the day and on in to the night featured live entertainment, theme laps, competitions including the popular Ms. Relay contest and the newspaper fashion show, along with early morning karaoke at 6 a.m. Sunday.

The Saturday evening luminaria ceremony included a slide show with photos of those lost to the disease, those who have beaten it and those currently fighting cancer.

Teams typically have at least one member of the team on the track at all times during the event and this year also featured an extensive kids camp area with games and crafts to help keep the younger attendees busy and entertained.

Sunday’s final lap, after closing ceremonies, included each participant being able to ring the bell, symbolic of the signal for a final cancer treatment when a patient is determined to be cancer free.

The first lap around the track at the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life is walked by the survivors, wearing their purple shirts. Here, members of teams line the track with their bubble wands to salute the survivors as they start off the 2024 Relay at Johansen High School in Modesto on Saturday, May 18. Marg Jackson/The Times