The Survivors Lap is one of the most touching moments of the 24-hour event, as it summarizes in one lap what Relay For Life is all about: fighting cancer so that more people battling cancer may join the purple-shirt crew the following year and the year after that until a cure is found.
While cancer is often associated with pain and loss, the Survivors Lap is a moment to celebrate those who have battled the disease and have emerged victorious.
Sue Owens and Donna Coker are co-captains for the Summerset Originals team, which has raised more than $65,000 for the American Cancer Society since Relay For Life came to Brentwood in 2005. Neither has contracted cancer, but both look forward to the Relay celebration each year.
“Relay is a celebration of birthdays,” Owens explained. “It’s a celebration for those who still have birthdays and those who won’t see anymore. We celebrate their journey and honor their courage. Relay For Life is about hope, and even though we’ve lost so many, when you see the survivors kick off the event with the Survivors Lap, you see the smiles of those who are still with us – some of them who have been cancer-free for years, and it gives you hope. It reminds you why you’re there.”
The Relay’s celebratory theme isn’t just about the survivors. It’s also about the community coming together for a charitable cause. According to Owens, Relay is like a carnival, featuring great food, activities for the children, booths to shop at and plenty of people to talk with.
Relay For Life also holds a special place in the hearts of Owens and Coker. Owens has lost a mother, daughter and husband to cancer, and Coker has lost her father. They also lost a dear friend, Dorothy Huber, who was one of the first big supporters of Relay in Brentwood.
“She was a beautiful person,” Coker remembered. “She had such a passion for life, and when it came to Relay, she never took no for an answer. She wanted everyone to be involved. Then one year, she missed a Relay planning meeting because she wasn’t feeling well, and not long after that she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She died later that fall. It’s because of Dotty – her spirit, her determination and her passion – that we do this every year. We do this to honor her and to do our part so that no one else has to go through this.”
This year the Summerset Originals will take to the track at Liberty High School once again to honor and celebrate those affected by cancer. They never set a goal of how much they plan to raise, but each year they average about $12,000.
“People ask me all the time, ‘How do you do it? What’s your secret to raising all this money?’ but I don’t really have an answer for them,” Owens said. “We don’t have a formula. It’s easy to ask for money when it’s not for you. We’re raising money to eradicate cancer, so every year I get out my address book and send letters and make phone calls. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have much to give. We nickel-and-dime it. There’s no such thing as a small donation with Relay For Life.”
Coker is pleased to see that the community continues to come out and support Relay year after year. As the teams get younger, she the competition has become fiercer, but Coker encourages it: “People tell us they’re going to try and beat us, but we want them to beat us. That means even more money goes to the American Cancer Society. They say, ‘Bring it on’ and we say, ‘Go for it.’ It’s a healthy competition and we’re all working toward a goal that will help others.”
After five years of participation, Owens has accepted that Relay is a yearly tradition that she simply can’t miss. “Each year, Donna and I say this is our last year. We’re done. It’s time to stop. But being a part of Relay, it’s a contagious experience, and you want to help as much as you can. I believe in my heart that it could be my dollar that helps find a cure so that someone doesn’t have to suffer.”
Coker has no plans to stop celebrating, either: “As long as I’m breathing and can walk the track, I’ll be at Relay.”