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Biggest Crowd Ever for Relay for Life Fundraiser

May 18, 2008 — American Cancer Society officials said this weekend they were elated over what was the largest turnout ever for the Relay for Life fundraiser on St. Croix.
Some 70 teams took part, and the number of people running or walking and the crammed parking lots were more proof of the relay's success.
At 9 p.m. Saturday, when most people who are not camping out are leaving for home, the Educational Complex track was filled with team representatives. The track was so crowded that some who began running were forced to walk because there was no room to stretch.
ACS Executive Director Fern LaBorde, who is credited with first bringing the Relay for Life concept to the Virgin Islands seven years ago, was thrilled with the turnout.
"It has grown on both islands — thank God," she said while greeting and thanking participants under the Department of Health tent. "It makes me feel wonderful, thankful to God that we've had this turnout because it shows that the community cares."
LaBorde's mother, sister, aunt and niece all died from cancer. "I trust in God and get screened," she said of how she remains focused.
LaBorde said the St. Thomas-St. John district relay for life will be held June 21-22 and that she hopes that St. John will soon have its own relay.
Groups of friends and families took the challenge to not only raise funds to help meet the $200,000 goal, but showed up to walk and run over the course of the 24-hour day. By all accounts, members of the V.I. National Guard kept a representative continuously on the track since the relay began in earnest at 6 p.m. Saturday, following the parade of teams.
Supporters lined the track to cheer and call out to survivors, including Novelle Francis Jr., Assistant Police Commissioner, who were identified by yellow shirts, as they completed a victory lap. Among those cheering was Myra Hendricks, who said that her children's grandfather and radio talk-show host, George "Bagoon" O'Reilly, is a cancer survivor. It was her first relay for life and Hendricks said that she was so excited "I couldn't sleep."
"I heard so much about it, like the moving ceremony when the lights go off," she said.
Former Tourism Commissioner Claire Roker, now a special assistant to Sen. Ronald Russell, was there in memory of her daughter Crystal, who died seven years ago from ovarian cancer.
"We have more people here than years gone by," she said from her perch under a tent that was decorated with coconuts and madras fabric. Roker said that she was moved by the number of supporters.
"What is surprising to me is that this cancer is hitting people — the survivors unit has increased," she said.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. and Lt. Gov. Gregory R. Francis took turns walking into the evening hours on Saturday. Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital CEO Gregory Calliste, Health Commissioner Vivian I. Ebbesen-Fludd and Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls were among the dignitaries also walking with employees.
Melinda Williams and crew were proud to list the amount, $5,271, they raised on their tent "Deh Life Savers." The group of 15 had to raise no less than $100. Sitting under the tent Saturday night were two other cancer survivors in addition to Williams, who said that she was diagnosed seven years ago with breast cancer.
Cancer resources in the Virgin Islands have come a long way, she said.
"When I was diagnosed I didn't have St. Thomas," she said, referring to the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute, whose employees make the trip to St. Croix each year to participate. "I had to leave my family and go away for care. Today, people have choices."
The money raised by the Relay for Life usually goes to help defray travel costs for patients.
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