June 22, 2003 – What a difference a year makes: The 2nd annual Relay for Life, held over the weekend, attracted nearly double the number of participating teams at last year's inaugural effort, and, according to preliminary figures, raised nearly twice as much money for the sponsoring St. Thomas-St. John unit of the American Cancer Society.
A cast of thousands turned out at the Charlotte Amalie High School athletic track for the event, which began a little after 6 p.m. Saturday and ended at 10 a.m. Sunday. A total of 40 teams walked the walk, compared to 23 last year, and the event raised at least $110,000, up from $65,000 a year ago.
The teams and their sponsors collaborated to honor local cancer survivors and their families, remember those who have lost the fight against the disease and raise funds for the local Cancer Society's treatment and support programs.
The opening ceremony consisted of remarks by Fern LaBorde, local unit president; José Raul Carrillo, Relay for Life chair; Gov. Charles W. Turnbull; and Viveca T. deCastro, a cancer survivor.
"I described two different groups of people, survivors and families of survivors," deCastro said later Saturday night. "To the survivors, I said that to get through this experience, you need prayer and a whole lot of faith, and that you should always rely on family and friends for support. To the families of survivors, I said to always be there, even if you don't know what to say or do."
For those with the disease, deCastro urged: "Just keep on living Make the decision to live until you die."
Her words paving the way for the night ahead, participants took part in the opening Survivors Lap and then made way for the first set of teams along the track. Among the teams were representatives of St. Thomas Rotary Club, Theodore Tunick and Co., Iota Phi Lambda sorority and the Health Department.
Each team had a decorated booth and each booth had a theme, many of them similar in the sentiments expressed regarding how to fight and prevent cancer.
The Iota Phi Lambda members draped ropes of fruits and vegetables around their tent, promoting healthful eating, and had a snack table set up for the public to sample such foods.
Many groups promoted the idea of exercise for fitness in order to reduce the odds of contracting cancer. Cassandra Mallory, owner of Total Fitness on St. Thomas, stated: "We feel that keeping fit is essential to the prevention of the disease That's why our theme this year is 'A Walk Around the Clock, Time for a Cure,' where walking represents fitness and the need to find a cure."
Mallory added that the idea of "total fitness" encompasses body, mind and spirit. She said that this year's Relay for Life "was made even more important because a week ago, we lost our best friend to cancer."
Rodney Miller, chief executive officer of Roy L. Schneider Hospital, put together a large team of walkers. He surprised the crowd by donating $10,000 to the American Cancer Society from the hospital. "We're going to beat it," Miller said, noting that groundbreaking for the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute is scheduled for September, with a targeted completion date of 18 months later.
Some participants were not affiliated with a group but chose to involve themselves in the event because of a connection with the cause, as survivors or as those who had lost loved ones to cancer.
For Ray Wilson, a cancer survivor originally from Indiana, the relay served to bring back memories. "It's sentimental for me knowing that people care," he said. "It's such a privilege for me to be here and participating with this wonderful group of cancer survivors."
Elliot "Mac" Davis, who survived kidney cancer only to be told at his five-year checkup that the disease had returned, said he had been through anger, grief and finally acceptance.
Davis was the keynote speaker at the 9 p.m. ceremony centered on the lighting of thousands of luminarias around the track. He described himself as a "dedicated fitness devotee" and said that he and his daughter, Elizabeth, plan to run the New York City Marathon together again in November.
Davis said it was his daughter's gift to him to keep him inspired. They ran in the New York event together last year, almost a year after he had been told that his cancer had returned and just before he began a round of ravaging chemotherapy. He bested his own time in two earlier marathons, in Nashville, Tennessee, and Orlando, Florida, by 26 and 16 minutes, respectively.
Although he is "relentlessly in search of a cure," Davis said, he does not pray to be healed. "If everyone who prayed to be cured was, there would be more people in the world than the planet could handle," he quipped. Instead, he said, he lives each day, prays for God's will to be done and thanks God for the opportunity he has been given to face his own mortality while he is still "strong, healthy and able to love and be loved."
After Davis spoke, mistress of ceremonies Carol Henneman called the survivors to the track to do their second lap. As the several dozen participants rounded the last curve, they were joined by family, friends, supporters and well-wishers who numbered so many that the track was almost completely filled all the way around with people. Together they then completed one more lap to the drumming of Eddie Bruce & Friends.
The crowd grew larger late into the night, with those on hand enjoying refreshments and activities that included line dancing contests, a fashion show, karaoke entertainment, a hula hoop contest and a basketball shoot-out.
On Sunday morning, a final lap was led by Miller, Carillo and others carrying a huge replica of a check made out to the Cancer Society for $110,000 the preliminary total of the funds raised by the event.
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