They came from across the Southland, celebrities and community members — laden with sleeping bags, tents, walking shoes, shorts and T-shirts, hats, sunglasses and plenty of water. Some were survivors and some honored family or friends who have succumbed to the terrible disease. Others came just to support a cause that has touched so many lives.
The eighth annual Foothills Relay for Life last weekend at La Crescenta's Clark Magnet High School drew about 600 hundred walkers and generated more than $116,000 in funds to help local cancer victims and survivors. The funds are used at four area cancer research facilities at UCLA; USC, Childrens Hospital and the City of Hope; as well as for local outreach programs, including a transportation program for cancer victims and a 24-hour phone cancer support line.
A united sea of walkers in purple T-shirts circled the field as the event was launched Saturday morning with the traditional Survivors' Lap. The color purple — which could be seen around the track in ribbons and balloons, as well as on the clothing of cancer survivors — is the official color of Relay for Life, and signifies the hope shared among caregivers, victims and all concerned with cancer, said Loretta Savery of La Cañada, Foothills Relay for Life event chairwoman.
“Hope in the face of misery is a miracle of the human spirit,” she said. Savery was inspired to become part of Relay for Life when her son became involved in order to accrue community service hours for school. Now, she continues her involvement in the event because she “can't imagine not remaining a part of Relay,” she said. “These people are like family.”
Throughout the event, individual walkers from teams took turns walking the designated track with at least one member of each team on the track throughout the 24-hour-long event. The largest group of participants in the event — which also generated the largest dollar amount — was St. Francis High School's BOCA Knights, with more than 125 youths involved on that team. The students raise money for the event throughout the year through candy sales and other fund-raisers.
Also recognized for its significant contribution to the cause was the Clean Sweep team from J's Maintenance, in La Crescenta, which raised about $21,000.
Crescenta Valley High School had two teams of youths in the event, the Kids Fighting Cancer and the Teens Fighting Cancer teams.
David Owens, 14, a freshman at Crescenta Valley High School, was on the Teens Fighting Cancer team. Owens said his grandmother's friend, Lynn, is a cancer survivor and his great aunt died of cancer. “This is my second year to do the walk,” he said. “It's important for everyone who knows anyone with cancer to participate.”
Owens circled the field with his friends, the Dols family, of La Crescenta, who came as part of two teams, the Lincoln Elementary School Lions team and Cub Scout pack No. 310, of which the dad, Paul Dols is cub master and Steven, 10, is a scout. Lisa Dols, 38, said she and her family, which also includes Kaitlyn, 7, hasn't been personally touched by cancer but they take the fight against cancer personally since it affects so many people in the community. “We're just doing our part in the fight,” she said as she stopped to pick up another plastic bead at a booth at the side of the track, signifying another lap she and her family members had completed.
Perhaps the one to have the largest number of beads by the end of the event was La Cañada resident Tim Anast, 52, who — for his third-year — circled the field continuously, with only short restroom and food breaks, throughout the entire 24-hour event. Anast, who is part of the ReMax Tri-City team, said he's part of the walk because of the many people in his office, as well as clients and friends, who currently battle the disease. “It gets a little tough at 3 and 4 in the morning, but suffering the little aches and pains I go through is nothing compared to the pain and suffering of those fighting cancer,” Anast said. “This is for a good cause and it feels good to help a good cause.”
The most moving portion of the event for many of the participants was the Luminaria ceremony. That's when people purchase a small votive candle in a white bag in memory of a loved one lost to cancer, or in honor of someone battling the disease. The bags are inscribed with the name of the victim or survivor, and in some cases a personal note or poem is included. The candles are lit and the names read off Saturday night during that special ceremony.
This year, about 500 luminaries were lit. The ceremony included the familiar tones of “Amazing Grace” filling the air as 17-year-old, Crescenta Valley High School senior Dylan Crane — who is a four-year cancer survivor — played the life-affirming tune on his trumpet. Harrison Tate, a freshman at CV High, also added her vocal talents with a solo of the song “Let it Be” in honor of her mom, who died of breast cancer in March.
The event concluded Sunday morning with a Fight Back ceremony, at which participants received small flags that read “Remember.” Event organizer Regan Boone asked participants to “plant” their flags in front of the stage to create a “garden of hope.”
“We are here because we have been touched by cancer. We are now advocates of the American Cancer Society,” she told the crowd, adding that — just as diligent walkers had kept their vigil throughout the weekend — “Remember that cancer doesn't sleep.”