In spite of an ominous weather forecast, spirits were high around the track and field oval behind the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School last Friday evening. Hundreds of walkers — cancer survivors and those there to remember loved ones who had succumbed to the disease — were making their way around the track in the first hours of the 6th annual Martha’s Vineyard Relay for Life, a principal fundraising event for the American Cancer Society.
Started in Tacoma, Wash., in 1986, Relay for Life spread across the nation and grew, and grew, and grew. In Massachusetts alone, 90 Relays are scheduled for 2010.
On the Vineyard this year, 450 walkers — including 80 cancer survivors — made up the rosters of 34 teams. Through pledges from friends, family, and co-workers, individual participants are responsible for fundraising.
Dozens of tents — large and small, elaborate and plain — lined the inside of the track, and people inside them called out to walkers going by, as if they were greeting neighbors walking past their front porch.
The first walkers headed down the track at 3 pm on Friday, and the last lap was scheduled for 11 am Saturday, but the weather had other ideas. Around 9 am, the skies turned from ominous to black, and thunder was heard rumbling off to the west. Organizers called the event off just minutes before heavy rain began to fall, with lightning not far behind.
A couple of hours of walking were washed out, but there was no watering down the fundraising impact of the event. Immediately after the Relay, some $77,000 had been collected, and organizers expect the final tally to approach $90,000.