The purple bows and ribbons decorating trees, fences and signs along Oakley’s main roadways aren’t a part of an elaborate prank, but it is meant to send a message: Relay For Life is coming.
Relay For Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, is a community effort in which participants form teams and keep at least one member walking along the Freedom High School track for 24 hours in a demonstration to show that the quest for a cure will never rest until cancer is a distant memory.
Relay teams have raised $43,000 so far, but Oakley Relay Event Chair Anastasia Billings hopes Oakley can raise $100,000. Oakley’s Relay For Life will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 17 and conclude at 9 a.m. the following morning. So far, 312 participants have registered, but it’s going to take a lot more people to reach this year’s fundraising goal, and here’s the best part: you don’t have to be on a team to support the cause.
Supporters may donate online at www.relayforlife.org/oakleyca, but Billings hopes the community will come out to see what Relay is all about.
“Come on out and take a walk around,” urges Billings. “We would love to have you walk a lap, play some Fight Back games, buy some items, donate and learn about cancer. I think the best way to get involved is to come check out the event. It's such an inspiring and amazing 24 hours.”
Every Relay For Life event has three ceremonies. The event kicks off with the Celebration ceremony in which cancer survivors walk the opening lap to show everyone in attendance, including themselves, that cancer isn’t going to bring them down. Throughout the day, there are activities, mini fundraisers, live entertainment and a host of other fun things to keep attendees busy.
At dusk, the Relay volunteers and the community gather for the Luminaria ceremony, a somber and sobering presentation that allows attendees to share in their grief and pay tribute to those who have lost their fight against cancer. It is a quiet moment of reflection as Relay participants who plan to camp out for the night prepare their sites and wind down for the evening.
At sunrise, the Relay party is back on. Relayers quietly kept the fight against cancer going throughout the night, but now it’s time to rise and shine as Relayers and the community make a final pledge to keep the fight against cancer going throughout the year. All the teams take to the track one last time to show those battling cancer that the fight for a cure will continue long after the Relay festivities come to an end.
“I participate in Relay for Life because I am tired of losing family and friends to this horrible disease,” said longtime Relay supporter Cindy Tumin. “I don't think there is anyone on this planet that hasn't been affected by cancer. The Luminaria ceremony is my favorite part. It is a touching way to remember our loved ones. It is inspiring to spend 24 hours with survivors. It is an exhausting, but rewarding weekend.”
The misconception about Relay For Life is that you have to know someone with cancer to get involved, but Oakley’s Relay For Life is a community created and supported event. Now in its sixth year, Oakley Relay has become one of Oakley’s largest community events. Billings invites all of Oakley and the surrounding communities to visit the Freedom High School track on May 17 to get a feel for what Oakley is all about.
This year’s event has a western theme, and Billings will oversee the event as “Sheriff A.” This year’s event will include an elaborate Kids Zone, featuring a bounce house, pixie dust tattoos, games, activities and a library. There will also be karate, football and dance demos for the little ones. Other events to check out are the Mr. Oakley Relay Pageant and the Road to Recover Boxcar Race. There are other special events planned, but Sheriff A is keeping a tight lip on the surprises she and the planning committee have in store.
This year’s entertainment lineup will keep the party going whether participants are walking the track or mingling with friends. The Floorshakers will take the stage from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by Damn Dirty Apes from 1 to 3 p.m., Joey Fender and the 55s from 5 to 7 p.m. Fender and the gang will be back at 6:30 a.m. to energize the Relayers on Sunday morning.
What makes Oakley’s Relay For Life even more special is that funds raised by Oakley participants will be used by the American Cancer Society to support local families in need through programs such as Look Good – Feel Better, which is a free service that teaches women battling cancer about beauty techniques to help them improve their appearance and self-image during chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Another program supported by Relay For Life is Road To Recovery, which provides transportation to and from treatment for people who have cancer who do not have a ride or are unable to drive themselves.
The American Cancer Society offers an array of programs to help those battling cancer and their families, but the scope of its services isn’t common knowledge. Even Billings, who lost two grandparents to lung cancer, was unaware of the American Cancer Society’s services until only a few years ago.
“I had no idea what Relay was, but if it was about fighting cancer, I was all for it,” Billings said. “The first year I was a participant, and I loved it. I had no idea of all the programs that American Cancer Society offered to the public. Had I known that I could call the American Cancer Society (1-800-227-2345) 24/7 and get information, questions answered, grief counseling – it would have made life a lot more bearable when my grandfather was diagnosed and lost his battle.”
One Relay For Life event was all it took, and Billings was hooked. She joined the planning committee her second year, taking on various positions in the past five years, and has served as event chair for two.
Oakley Relay supporter Jenny McElroy knows first hand the good that is done by the American Cancer Society. As a cancer survivor, McElroy said the American Cancer Society helped her and her family tremendously, and the nonprofit awarded her a $5,000 scholarship for each year she attended college. As a way to give back, McElroy is a member of Oakley team Fishing For A Cure, Oakley Relay’s star fundraising team, which has already raised more than $10,000 for this year’s fundraiser.