Take a lap

Judy Olson and John Cummings
The Survivor's Lap is led by Judy Olson (left) and John Cummings (right). Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Anna Marie D'Addarie - June 7, 2007

Four years ago 13 teams did the first Relay For Life on Martha's Vineyard and made more than $40,000. Last weekend 33 teams set up campsites at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School track and raised more than $100,000 for the American Cancer Society. But the money is only part of the story. Relay For Life is a celebration for those surviving cancer and a chance for families and friends to celebrate the memory of those who have lost the battle. This year's event was the biggest so far, and judging from the long-range planning I heard as I visited the tents, next year's relay will certainly grow with more people, more teams, and more reasons to celebrate.

Relay For Life began 19 years ago, when Dr. Gordy Klatt walked, jogged, and ran around a track in Tacoma, Wash., raising $27,000 for the cancer society. The following year, 220 supporters on 19 teams joined Dr. Klatt in this overnight event, and thus the Relay For Life was born. According to the American Cancer Society, in the fiscal year 2005-06, 177 events in New England raised $22.2 million, up from the $9 million in 2000. Massachusetts alone had 49,000 participants in the Relay For Life in 2005-06.

Janelle Pine, Alex Clark, Isabel Smith, Jade Pine, Brianna Streleeki, and Olivia Smith
Cancer Terminators team members (from left) Janelle Pine, Alex Clark (behind), Isabel Smith, Jade Pine, Brianna Strelecki, and Olivia Smith. The girls sent their love to Tammy Pine-Willett.
The set-up

The teams began to set up their campsites on Friday afternoon, June 1. Most teams rented tents from Tilton Tents; the company generously supplied them at a discount for the event. These tents, most used as a sort of a living room, were decorated to the hilt. Camping-style tents were set up behind the team's main tent. Team members would sleep overnight in these tents.

Useful items such as sleeping bags, coolers, oil lamps, and chairs were toted in along with chessboards, flower arrangements, raffle prizes, and inflatable palm trees. A very unusual city was being built.

MJ Bruder Munafo
MJ Bruder Munafo cheers on walkers outside the support group tent last weekend.
Opening ceremony

"Let's walk tonight as one team," said Marisa Connolly, the area director of communications for the American Cancer Society, addressing all the teams assembled on the track's infield last Friday evening. Two Island survivors also spoke. Judy Olson told us how cancer affects every aspect of life, "Should I buy green bananas? Should I plant asparagus? She said what helped her is "knowing her options, having control, and taking an active role."

Survivor John Cummings gave 10 reasons (David Letterman-style) for people to join the Prostrate Cancer Support Group. He reminded everyone to "Live life to the fullest," but it was like preaching to the choir.

The Survivor's Lap was next. With Ms. Olson and Mr. Cummings carrying the banner, the survivors followed, dressed in their exclusive purple tee-shirts. Everyone else stood around the track and cheered as the parade passed by.

Gavin Fynbo and Sarah Chickering
Don't do the Limbo with a Dachshund. You'll never win. Gavin Fynbo (left) and Sarah Chickering with dog Oscar.
Fun and games

This year's relay had more events scheduled than ever before. The Sting Rays entertained with great music; a volleyball tournament had almost 20 teams competing; IMPers did a comedy performance; Vineyard Complementary Medicine gave free massages; and the Rotary Club of Martha's Vineyard cooked meals.

Teams visited each other, walked around the track together, shared hors d'oeuvres, and memories. It is this instant community that makes the Relay For Life so special and what makes it the kind of event that you have to see to believe.

Lights against the darkness

Dark clouds blew in at 7:30 pm last Friday evening. The winds picked up and the rain fell hard. People continued to walk, but the lightning finally sent everyone back to their tents. By 9:45 pm the rain had stopped, but no one was sure if there was still time to light the luminarias. Bagpiper Tony Peak was ready to play and the candles in each of the hundreds of white bags were quickly lit. With just a few short minutes left before the 10 pm curfew, Mr. Peak led everyone around the track in a sad, but moving ceremony.

A new day

Saturday, June 2, dawned with hardly any traces of the stormy night before. The Rotary Club was on cooking duty again, making breakfast. Teams were still doing laps around the track.

This year's event had more young people involved than in the past. The youngest team captain was Julia Cooper, 11, of Edgartown. This is her second relay. Team Miles For Mebbit had a group of young women on their team. Together they honored Mebbit Morano, bringing together all aspects of her life from her favorite colors to her varied activities.

The Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School was represented for the second year. Team member Ryan Antolick said he was the designated all-night walker since he did that shift last year. Their tent was a mix of posters and beanbag chairs and had the lived-in look of a dorm room.

The Cancer Terminators, first-year participants, walked for Tammy Pine-Willett of Edgartown, whose illness kept her from the event. The young women on the team said they would not give up walking until noon on Saturday (when the event ended). They mirrored Tammy's determination.

It was good to see the young faces at the Relay For Life. They offer hope for a future, cancer-free.

There are too many stories to tell and not enough space to tell them. Next year, visit the Relay For Life. Take a lap, look at the campsites, meet the people, and you will never have to be reminded again to live life to the fullest.