A rainbow greeted early arrivals Saturday morning at the Scholl Canyon Ballfields, kicking off a spirited weekend-long fundraiser to battle breast cancer.
The seventh annual Relay for Life Glendale drew 500 people who raised money and awareness to battle the common and deadly form of cancer. Night and day, participants walked laps around a baseball diamond in honor of family members and friends afflicted by the disease.
Local businesses, civic groups and Glendale city departments set up tents alongside the track offering food, drinks and encouragement.
Arneis Parya of Glendale, 16, walked Saturday afternoon with her cousin, Pendita Paria, also of Glendale.
"My neighbor died of lung cancer; she was like a third grandmother for me," said Arneis, 16.
She said it is powerful to listen to the stories of those who have lost loved ones to breast cancer or who have undergone invasive treatments to stop the disease.
"You see the survivors," Arneis said. "You know it is possible to beat it."
Cherie Christensen of Glendale, a cancer survivor of nine years, walked with friend Joe Diaz. She described the Relay for Life as "really very uplifting. Everyone is together. Everyone is walking."
Earlier in the day, Christensen and Diaz had painted colorful designs and the names of cancer victims on paper bags to be used in the evening's luminaria ceremony. The bags are weighted down with sand, and a candle is placed inside to illuminate them from within. They are placed along the track to create a memorial as a bagpipe player performs and the names of the deceased are read aloud.
The presenting sponsor for the event is Glendale Adventist Medical Center, with several other businesses, organizations and city departments supporting the cause. Nearly 300 of the walkers this year were Hoover High School students who get community service credit for raising funds and participating.
Organizers sprinkled special moments throughout the weekend to keep things lively, said event co-chair Kerry Nelson: salsa dancing lessons at night, sunrise yoga, a "bubble lap" midday in which walkers blow bubbles as they walk the track, and the popular Sunday pancake breakfast provided by Glendale firefighters and paramedics.
The Glendale-Ararat chapter of Homenetmen, a youth organization, participates every year. As volunteer moms worked inside a tent cutting up fruit for walkers, Homenetmen representative Moneh Grigorian explained the reason the group had 30 or so teens chip in.
"Cancer is a sickness that is affecting every family," she said. "It is not national. It is not ethnic. It affects everyone."
Nelson said the effort had raised more than $32,000 by midday Saturday, with about a week to go before organizers would know the final tally.