Thousands of area residents were out in full force Friday night to do battle with cancer as they rounded tracks for the annual Relay For Life program. Laps began at 7 p.m. and didn't stop until 7 a.m. this morning.
Relay For Life is a major fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. The money raised goes to help with research, education, advocacy and patient service. Friday's events occurred at Grafton, Clarksburg, the Lewis County Athletic Field and the Duvall-Rosier Field in Marion County.
At Grafton High School's track, Taylor County's first annual Relay For Life began with survivors of cancer led by the Troop 6 Boy Scout unit making the first lap. Three walkers carried a sign that read "Survivors: We Are Winning." Medals hung proudly around each of their necks to signify their victory.
After the survivors rounded the track to a standing ovation, representatives from over 20 teams began making their rounds. Bridgeport student Amber Goodwin sang a variety of songs as walkers began their long night.
Each team of 10 to 15 people was expected to have at least one representative on the track at all times. Much of the money came from donations walkers received before the relays even began.
Line dancers, Indian dancers from the Boy Scouts, a silent auction and T-shirt sales were at the event to entertain and raise money.
"It takes more than one to battle cancer," said Buffy Taylor, who walked with the team from Jerry's Restaurant in Grafton. She participated in honor of her friend, Kathy Page, who is fighting cancer and her father, James Harden, who was lost to the disease. "The ultimate goal is a cure. Every little bit counts."
"I think the big thing is to make people aware," said Delmas H. Mayle, who fought and beat prostate cancer. "Cancer is an up and coming problem. If they don't find a cure soon, at least people will have the awareness and education to be alert for it."
Mayle said he was struck with pride when he walked around the track with other survivors. "It means alot," he said. "It feels good to be a part of it."
Steve Pierson, the announcer at the event and two-time survivor of cancer, said he was happy with the turnout and hopes it will be a boost for future years. "It's pretty good for the first time out," he said.
Stan Bartlett was also pleased. He said the expected total for money raised was $10,000 before the fundraising began. Before the festivities began, they already had $16,000 and were expecting $20,000 before the last lap ended.
Over at the Robert C. Byrd High School track, a colorful hot air balloon loomed over Harrison County's Relay For Life. Children played on inflatable contraptions donated by Time Out Productions as 58 teams made their laps.
The event was complemented by karate demonstrations, a silent auction and trip give-aways sponsored by the accounting firm Doak, Cuppett and Poling.
Before any laps were taken at Robert C. Byrd, a banquet sponsored by Texas Roadhouse was held to honor cancer survivors.
According to Ruby Fluharty, a volunteer for the American Cancer Society's Action Network and survivor of breast cancer, Harrison County's event began with a first lap for survivors and a second lap in which they were joined by their families. Fluharty, who has lost a son, brother, mother and two sisters to cancer, said she is proud of what Relay For Life has been able to do each of its six years in Harrison.
At 10 p.m., luminary bags were lit, each with the name of someone who fell to cancer. There was a moment of silence and then special music when the walking was halted.
"I sends cold chills up your back," said Fluharty about the luminary presentation. "It's really inspiring."
Bill Behrens, chairman of Harrison County Relay For Life, said that as of June 1st, $50,000 had been raised. He expected much more by morning.
"It's about having fun and helping out," said Behrens. "That's what we're doing it for. Hopefully someday we won't have to do this anymore and we can focus on something new."