Cancer does not sleep, and neither will the participants at this year’s Relay for Life as they work to raise money to help find a cure for the disease.
As they have for the last four years, relay “teams” of 8-15 people, who have been busy raising funds for the past couple of months, will have at least one member circling The Park throughout the evening of Aug. 12 and morning of Aug. 13, reminding passersby of the disease’s impact on Forest Park and all over.
“We got sick at 3 a.m., not just at noon. That’s why it’s overnight, so people can help and relate to what everybody’s gone through. Pretty much everyone there has had some dealing with cancer,” said Sandy Boy, who organized the Survivor’s Dinner that precedes the relay.
Boy, a survivor of breast cancer, worked for the American Cancer Society for 27 years, and began volunteering at the Relay event after retiring. “I’m basically doing what I used to get paid to do for free,” she said.
Relay for Life events, which take place in towns throughout the country, are the American Cancer Society’s main fundraiser, according to event co-chairperson Dave Goetz, a columnist for the Forest Park Review, whose wife died of cancer in 1997.
In past years, Forest Park’s relay has brought in anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000. According to information provided by the American Cancer Society, 94 percent of the money raised goes directly into research and programming.
The event’s main sponsor is Forest Park National Bank and Trust Co., but businesses all over Forest Park contributed money as well as food for the survivors’ dinner and resources for fundraising.
“We see this as a very important event celebrating the success of cancer survivors, raising funds for cancer research and remembering those who are lost to the dreadful disease,” said bank Executive Vice President Art Jones. Staff members from the bank will also be volunteering at the event to help register teams and count the money raised.
New participants this year include Team Blonde, which will host a jewelry-making tent at the event, and Jimmy John’s, which will be giving out sample sandwiches.
Seventeen teams participated in this year’s event. The teams spend the weeks preceding the relay raising funds in every way possible”letter writing campaigns, silent auctions, garage sales and more. The survivors’ dinner will begin at about 4:30 on Friday evening. According to Boy, it typically draws between 50 and 60 people.
An opening ceremony follows, at which Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone will be among the speakers addressing the crowd.
“They are serving a worthy purpose”our small part in the grand scheme of finding the cure for cancer is definitely worthy,” said Calderone.
Then comes the opening lap around the park, with all the survivors and team members participating. The teams continue circling the park throughout the night, the goal being for each team to have at least one member on the track at all times.
During the evening hours, there will be grills burning, DJs spinning, and even races for kids on toy horses, according to Goetz.
The park district will offer free use of the swimming pool to participants.
The emotional climax of the relay is the luminaria ceremony, scheduled for 10 p.m. Luminarias, which resemble white paper sacks, are placed around the park, each one inscribed with the names of an individual affected by cancer and the person who purchased the luminaria in their honor.
Candles are lit, glow-sticks are distributed, and the names are read out loud for all to hear.
“There’s hundreds of lights circling the park, and to look around and know each one represents someone from our town with cancer is pretty amazing. We hear the names of a lot of our friends, and some are still with us, some have passed away, but it brings the community very close,” said Boy.
After the luminaria ceremony, participants pitch their tents and prepare to camp out for the night. In years past, the campers spent the night on the baseball field, but this year they will set up their tents on the administrative lawn above The Park. The relay concludes with a closing ceremony Monday morning, during which organizers announce the total fundraising numbers and the event’s top teams.
“Twenty years ago we couldn’t do this event because we didn’t have the number of survivors we have now”it’s a pretty special event,” said Boy.
Sheri Ladd, owner of the Harrison Street Café, believes that Forest Park can never do enough to contribute to the cause of finding a cure for cancer.
That’s why this year, when the Relay for Life ends Saturday morning, the Swing for Life 14-inch women’s softball tournament will begin. Ladd is hoping to get 10 teams signed up for the double-elimination tournament so that games can go on all day Saturday and Sunday at The Park. The Park District of Forest Park will be donating the fields and operating a grill during the games.
Lois Calderone, wife of Mayor Anthony Calderone, will be throwing out the first pitch.
In the Harrison Street Café, Ladd proudly displays a poster of a thermometer measuring funds raised by the tournament. It is currently filled in with red marker up to the $6,000 mark, but Ladd is shooting for a goal of $10,000.
Several area businesses have purchased banners to be displayed during the tournament. Others have signed up to have their names printed on back of T-shirts worn by the players.
Ladd, an active participant in the Sunday Night Women’s League in Forest Park who has seen several close friends and family members diagnosed with cancer, said she had also sold about 80 pinwheels to be placed on the field’s fence.
Ladd is still looking for both individual players and teams that would like to participate. The cost of registration is $25 per person and $375 per team. Those interested can call the Harrison Street Café at 366-6633.
The restaurant will be offering a special Triple Play Breakfast of three eggs, three pancakes and three sausages for $4.75 throughout the tournament.