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Laguna relays a message of hope

Rick Tortes attended the opening and closing ceremonies of the American Cancer Society Relay for Life in Laguna Beach.

In between, he walked all 24 hours of the annual event — by himself and with newfound friends — in memory of his mother.

“Ricky called me the Thursday before the event and said he wanted to walk all 24 hours,” said Vicki Jobe, society liaison. “He said, ‘The pain I’ll feel is nothing like the pain a cancer patient goes through.’ Everybody fell in love with him. He was pretty much the star of the event, and he made hundreds of new friends.”

Tortes completed 61 laps.

He was on lap 50 when participant Ali Hawthorne emailed media about his dedication: “He says, ‘Mom fought hard, and I have to fight too.’”

Tortes was among the estimated 300 participants and visitors at the fundraiser held Saturday and Sunday at El Morro Elementary School.

The event celebrated survivors of the disease, inspired those still battling, commemorated those who lost the battle and raised funds to continue the battle.

Individuals are eligible to participate in the relay, although teams are the norm. There were 23 of them this year.

Teammates take turns walking or running the track. Each team is asked to have a representative on the track for the entire 24 hours. It takes a round-the-clock effort to beat cancer, which never takes a day off.

And it takes money. Participants are asked to solicit donations from friends.

As of Tuesday, the relay had raised $43,000. Donations will be accepted until Aug. 31 at or by mail to American Cancer Society, ATTN: LBRFL, 1940 E. Deere Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705.

Funds will support services and free programs for cancer patients.

Programs include a personal cancer guide that helps patients and their families navigate the health-care system with information about resources in clinics and hospitals and scholarships for young cancer survivors.

Survivors of all ages, 35 of them, were the guests of honor at El Morro last weekend. They inspired those who look forward to conquering the disease. The event was also an opportunity to remember loved ones who didn’t survive.

Survivors and those who lost the fight were celebrated in the luminaria ceremony, which included laps around the track, a slide show of survivors and music. As darkness overtook the Catalina sunset, illuminated bags, called luminarias in Spanish, glowed in the night and in the hearts of the participants.

Each bag bore the name of someone who has fought cancer, successfully or not.

“The luminaria ceremony is the most touching part of the relay for me,” said Lagunan Lauren Harris, who chaired the relay. “It is always remarkable to see all the bags.”

“I walked with my parents. It was our special time,” she said.

Harris, who grew up in Laguna, has participated in relays since she was in college. Her mother, Ann, is a four-time cancer survivor. She served as survivor co-chairwoman with Carrie Smith for the 2011 relay.

The committee also included Teagan Barnes, accounting; Larry Pendleton, logistics; Susan Lynch and Patricia Ostovarpour, luminary co-chairwomen; Caroline Wright, team captain chairwoman; Kate McMahon, youth teams; Kathryn Mazza, entertainment; Alexandria Hawthorne, marketing; Penny Svenson, Kidz Kamp; Ken Harris, sponsorships chairman; Ashley Sharp; Bahman and Bahram Mahdavi, food co-chairs; and Laura Otsu, online chairwoman.

For more information, contact or call (949) 567-0625.