An emotional Relay

Event raises cash, awareness for cancer fight


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Teddy Krogh, a bagpiper with the Crow Creek Pipes and Drums group performs “Amazing Grace” during the Chugiak-Eagle River Relay for Life luminaria ceremony Friday, Aug. 2 at the McDonald Center in Eagle River. The ceremony, which featured lighted paper bags bearing the names of cancer victims, was held just after sunset on the first day of the all-night event.

MATT TUNSETH

Sometimes making donuts means making a difference.

At this year’s Chugiak-Eagle River Relay for Life, the fundraising team of Stevie Larson, Belicia Norris, Cindy Henie and Teresa Pitt dished donuts as their way of fighting cancer.

“I don’t want to see anybody else I love die,” said Larson, who said she’s lost several close family members to the nation’s second leading cause of death.

The four women staffed a donut-making booth at the annual fundraiser, which was held Aug. 2-3 at the McDonald Center in Eagle River. Dishing out hot, fresh, sugar-coated treats to the crowd was the women’s way of adding a tasty twist to the party-like atmosphere at the event.

“It’s a celebration,” Pitt said.

Although cancer is a deadly serious topic, event organizers said they strive to make Relay for Life a fun, uplifting event where people can celebrate the living while remembering those they’ve lost. This year’s program was similar to past years, with a survivor’s walk kicking things off in the early evening, followed by the somber luminaria ceremony at 11 p.m. and then a night’s worth of walking and activities designed to keep people up and walking around the makeshift track mowed into the field adjacent to the McDonald Center.

The idea behind the all-night event, according to event co-chair Heather Maidle, is to battle the deadly disease on its own terms.

“Cancer never sleeps,” Maidle said.

This year’s luminaria ceremony — in which the names of cancer victims were written on lighted paper bags circling the track — included a bagpiper playing from the Crow Creek Pipe and Drums band playing “Amazing Grace” as participants walked in silence around the track.

“That sets the mood for our whole luminaria,” Maidle said.

Following the ceremony, participants quickly went back to work having fun and showing their dedication to raising money for the cause.

“The last part is fighting back,” Maidle said.

Hundreds of people took part in this year’s fundraiser, which brought several tents and motor homes to the field. Although some people stopped by to walk for an hour or two, others Friday night said they planned to spend the entire evening at the event.

“That’s home tonight,” said Teresa Pitt, pointing to a large dome tent pitched behind her team’s donut booth.

In order to keep walkers’ spirits up overnight, Maidle said organizers planned numerous activities for participants, including a teen dance, games, nonstop music and late-night prizes.

“It gets really crazy,” Maidle said.

Many of the teams have been a part of Relay for Life for several years. Chugiak High sophomore Autumn Harth said she’s been leading a team of friends for three years. While handing out helium-filled balloons to fellow participants, both Harth and her teammate Madde Kunkel said they’ve been personally affected by cancer in their short lives.

“I just think it’s a fight worth fighting for,” Harth said.

Gloria Lewellyn was Maidle’s co-chair for this year’s event. Lewellyn said she first got involved with Relay for Life after a battle with breast cancer in 2007. In addition to helping organize the event, Lewellyn also enlisted plenty of help at her team’s fundriasing cotton candy and popcorn booth.

“The whole family is involved,” she said.

The highlight of each year’s relay, Lewellyn said, is the survivor’s walk at the beginning of the evening.

“To be around those long term survivors is great,” she said. “It gives you hope.”

One difference between this year’s relay and past events was no campfires were allowed due to a municipal burn ban — which also meant small bulbs shined from inside the luminarias instead of candles. Organizers took the change in stride.

“It’s not quite the same, but they still flicker pretty good,” Maidle said.

Maidle said the event raised nearly $55,000 for the fight against cancer, the vast majority of which stays in Alaska.

Maidle and Lewellyn said dozens of volunteers and local businesses stepped up to help with this year’s fundraiser, and the women were thrilled with the number of people who participated in the relay.

“That’s what’s so neat about it, because everyone comes out,” Maidle said. “Our community is awesome.”

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com.

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