VERO BEACH – The annual Relay For Life, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, is an amazing amalgam of events and emotions.
Festival, fundraiser, parade, support group, spiritual experience, it elicits emotions of grief, sadness, hope, and joy. It is a night of celebration and remembrance.
Participating teams creatively cooperate to raise money for cancer research, and the participants are passionate about their cause, usually because either they, or someone close to them has battled cancer.
Each team ‘s members raise not only money, but also hope, seeing survivors of the disease walking against cancer.
This year’s Relay For Life of the Beaches began Friday night, taking place under a stunning tropical sunset, and then, under a starry sky in Riverside Park.
American Cancer Society Community Representative Jane Holman, watched calmly, as the evening unfolded before her.
“This evening is wholly made up of people who volunteer for the American Cancer Society, and they bring the people who supported them as survivors and caretakers,” she said. “The husbands and fiances are truly amazing.
Team members pitched creative campsites paying tribute to the movies, including Block, Block & Pegler’s site honoring the Wizard of Oz, Jaws, courtesy of Dale Sorensen Real Estate, and Marine Bank’s homage to the Great Gatsby.
Following the inspiring Survivors’ Lap, walkers were treated to entertainment to keep them motivated for the long night of walking that lay before them.
As the sun set, the candles were lit for the moving luminaria ceremony, which honors those who have been touched by cancer.
Carol Waldner, a healthy and vibrant committee member, despite the fact that she has had cancer and a liver transplant, and was currently under a doctor’s order to take care of her pneumonia, described her team from Spanish Lakes as a team of “old geezers who raised over $20,000 to fight cancer.
“You name it, we did it,” Waldner said mischievously, when asked how they had raised funds.
Dawn broke and the walking continued.
Kim Feliciano, team captain for the Florida Eye Institute, was preparing to take down her team’s Madagascar-themed camp site.
Her team raised money with a garage sale, a bake sale, a car wash, candy sales, and polo shirt Fridays.
“We did really well, better than last year,” she said.
When asked if she had gotten any sleep throughout the night, she said, “cancer doesn’t sleep, and neither do we.”
Maureen Pfeil, from Chicago, honored her mother, who had lived in Spanish Lakes and died from cancer two years ago. She was passionate about Relay For Life, walking every year.
“My mother always talked about the fun at the relays with her friends,” she said. “So I chose this as a way to honor her year after year. Last year was the first year I walked, and I wore her shoes. This year I walked the caregivers’ lap in her slippers, because I donated her shoes to our team’s display of shoes of those close to us who have died from the disease. It means so much to me to know that she walked this track for years before me.”
As the event’s top participant, Pfeil raised $3,715.
According to Event Chair Susan Lacey, more than $115,000 was raised this year, an increase from last year, and well beyond the ACS goal of $110,000.