Rain doesn’t dampen spirit at Relay for Life

Teams raise more than $80,000 for cancer research.

Cold rain drizzled softly as cancer survivors walked the first lap of Relay for Life around the track at 10 a.m. Saturday. People with umbrellas lined the edges of the track and applauded the survivors.

The dreary weather did not hinder the survivors as they marched. This rain was nothing compared to what they had gone through.

So began this year’s Relay for Life at the Liquid Crystal Track. The 24-hour fundraiser for cancer research ended at 10 a.m. yesterday and brought in $80,838.47, topping last year’s total by more than $2,000.

After the survivors finished the first lap, the people on the sidelines joined in and began a long 24 hours of walking. Some would be there the entire time. Others belonged to a larger team and came and went as they pleased.

A little girl ran up and jumped into her grandmother’s arms.

“Can I walk around with you, grandma?”

“You sure can.”

Around noon, the sun came out. More people started to walk the track.

Each tent lining the track was raising money for cancer research. Some offered massages and others had henna tattoos, but the brothers of Kappa Sigma found a different way to fundraise.

Every few minutes, whistles screamed across the field. The group of Kappa Sigmas ran to a girl, picked her up and put her in a makeshift jail. Her friend had donated a dollar to Kappa Sigma to capture her, and she’d have to pay a dollar to be released.

A woman ran up to tents and danced the chicken dance if someone donated money. A man pulled a seat on wheels and offered chariot rides.

The clouds blew back in front of the sun and, again, it began to rain. The walkers trudged on, umbrellas in hand.

As the sun began to set behind the clouds, the participants began to prepare for the Luminaria Ceremony. Each white paper bag twinkled behind the thick black letters of loved ones’ names. Uncle Dale, Grandpa Richard, Aunt Jeannie.

The group of participants gathered near the start line on the track and walked a lap in silence for the memory of all those who had lost their battle with the disease. The sound of shuffling feet was the only thing to be heard.

Later, two students stood by a luminaria dedicated to the memory of Robert Zuckerman, a history professor who had bladder cancer. He died in early 2008.

“He was here my freshman year,” one student remembered.

“Yeah, I met him when I was 12,” the other said.

Tara Jackson, the faculty adviser for the Relay For Life student organization, said the ceremony was touching.

“My father died from colon cancer about 15 years ago, and then my uncle from the same thing, so it’s definitely there,” she said. “I bought several luminarias. It’s for a good cause.”

As the sun began to rise the next morning, only a few hours separated the walkers from completion. Some stray team members who had ventured home for a few hours of sleep and shelter from the cold returned to the track to finish their walk.

At 10 a.m., announcers called all participants to the entertainment tent at the center of the track. Twenty-four hours of walking, running, supporting and giving had finally come to an end. It was time to begin the closing ceremony.

The brothers of Kappa Sigma gathered next to Kent locals like Heather Malarcik and her family. Kent firefighters stood behind second-year architecture students. Everyone moved in, standing shoulder to shoulder with the early morning sun breaking through the hovering rain clouds.

After a couple playful awards, final words of thanks and encouragement were addressed to the crowd.

“Relay for Life gives us all the opportunity to celebrate the cancer survivors in our lives and support them in their fight against this disease,” one announcer began. “Relay for Life also gives us time to remember those we have lost. They are never far from our hearts, and it’s our relief that we can come together and remember their lives.

“It is for all the people we’ve lost, all the people who continue to survive cancer and all those who will still hear those dreaded words, ‘You have cancer,’ that we pledge to fight back. Relaying is how we choose to make a difference against this disease.”

A few moments later, the entire crowd of students, adults, survivors and fighters made its way to the track once more for a final lap.

Contact news correspondent Ashley Sepanski at [email protected] and features reporter Allison Smith at [email protected].