By JIMMY MCCARTHY
Gray clouds loomed the skies, but the rain held back as cancer survivors began their lap around the track at the 15th annual Relay for Life at SUNY Fredonia.
OBSERVER Photo by Jimmy McCarthy
Honorary Chairwoman Christine Phelka leads the way around the track at SUNY Fredonia for the annual Relay For Life.
Lead by Honorary chairperson and breast cancer survivor, Christine Phelka, they walked the track with great emotion as the people watching clapped and cheered.
"It was awesome," Blanche Bauza, member of the Breast Cancer Support Group, said. "I was so impressed with everything that was going on."
Following the survivor lap was the caretakers lap. Family and friends joined their loved ones, holding them tight, as they walked around the track. Several survivors carried signs that expressed thanks, love and hope. After the caretakers lap, the day of events began.
Pitched around the track were several tents, all representing different teams, to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Each tent displayed creativity as the theme for this year was "Through the decades." Baked goods, flowers, and apparel were also on display to raise money. Other tents had games and face painting for children. Many teams are new to the relay, but a few, including the Breast Cancer Support Group, have been around since 1999, the beginning of the Relay for Life in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area.
"It's hard to keep a team going for that many years because there are so many changes and things come and go, Kate Hinds Morrison, marketing and publicity chairperson of the event, said. "And the fact that they are still here is cool."
Bauza, a breast cancer survivor for nine years, stated that she became a member of the Breast Cancer Support Group after she had received treatments. The group is a close-knit one, as they do a lot together. They lift each other up with their experiences with breast cancer and offer the utmost support. Bauza also mentioned that Phelka will be joining the group after her treatments.
As tents around the track continued to raise money throughout the day, the goal for this year's event was to reach $127,000. Before the event even kicked off, they raised close to $80,000.
"From what they used to raise, financially, to now is unbelievable," Cathy Gilvin, co-chair of the event, said. "Just the five years that I have been involved, we have gone from less than $100,000 to just under $150,000 as a goal. We have had one the largest per capita increases in fundraising in all of Western New York. The dedication and the outreach into the community are amazing, and everyone knows what the relay is."
Though the event is held in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area, the relay is a Northern Chautauqua County event. Gilvin mentioned that they are reaching out to surrounding areas in Cassadaga, Forestville and Silver Creek to take part in the event.
The event continued through the day with entertainment by the Elevation Combat Sports Academy and Zumba by Sue Chaffee. The evening's events included one of the most emotional parts of the day - the Luminaria Ceremony. Following this were the closing ceremonies.
"The fun part of the event, of course, is announcing the total for the event," said Morrison. "It's a lot of fun. It's a great time for us with all the people still gathered to send a message that people are fighting this disease every day, and there are lots that others can do. Every single year, we have been blessed to have people who take up the fight with us."
Morrison mentioned several sponsors that help make the event possible. Some of the sponsors represented at the event included YNN, Cott Beverages, Lake Shore Savings, DFT Communications, Tim Hortons, and Fieldbrook Farms. Also mentioned were SUNY Fredonia and National Grid for their efforts made to the event.
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