Relay for Life kicks off in Tri-Lakes area

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published April 25, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 24, 2013 at 9:50 a.m.
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Relay for Life events often attract large crowds in the effort to raise funds for cancer research. Relays in the Tri-Lakes Edition coverage area, which begin Friday, are no exception. In 2012, Relay for Life raised $1.4 million in Arkansas for cancer research.

Cities across the Tri-Lakes region are gearing up for this year’s Relay for Life events, sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

Renee Taggart, Saline County Relay for Life chairman, said it will be a celebration and a remembrance.

“We are going to celebrate the people who have conquered cancer and remember those who have lost the battle, so that one day we won’t have to hear those words, ‘You have cancer.’”

Participants gather at a central location and walk for 12 hours. Most of the area’s events last from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Taggart said the goal is to raise $72,000 for the American Cancer Society through Saline County’s Relay for Life event.

“We keep fundraising until the end of August,” Taggart said.

Each event has a “survivor lap” where cancer survivors walk together.

“I love seeing the survivors out there,” Taggart said. “It’s neat to visit [with the survivors] and learn their stories.”

Nikki Ezell, an American Cancer Society community representative for Hot Spring, Clark, Dallas, Cleveland, Montgomery, Pike and Polk counties, said 77 events are held in Arkansas. She said the Relays differ in every county, but they all focus on conquering cancer.

“Our communities set their own goals, and they have such a heart and a mission,” Ezell said.

In 2012, Relay for Life raised $900 million nationally for cancer research, and Arkansas raised $1.4 million of that amount, she said.

“It’s a very rewarding feeling to give back to communities,” Ezell said.

Ezell said the luminaria service is her favorite part of the event every year.

Luminarias are lit around each event venue at dusk. Relay participants can purchase a white bag and write names on them of cancer survivors and people who did not win their cancer battle. The bags are filled with sand and a candle inside. All of the lights are then turned off, the luminarias are lit, and the name on every luminaria is read aloud.

“[The luminaria service] helps us remember the people we’ve lost and gives us a sense of awe and hope. That always renews my fight,” Ezell said.

Although Ezell supports the counties, she said the communities and volunteers ultimately are the people who make Relay for Life a reality.

“Volunteers lead this event, and I’m just a support person for them,” Ezell said. “[Volunteers] are the heart and soul of the American Cancer Society.”

Sherri Jones is the executive director for the American Cancer Society and manages all the relays in the state.

“Relay for Life is very volunteer-driven,” Jones said. “It’s a neat event, and everyone works together.”

Jones said the event is special for cancer survivors because they can see people who have been with them through their fight with cancer, as well as new faces, encouraging them.

“People that you know in your community are cheering you on around that track,” Jones said.

Relay for Life gives people in communities a chance to know what the American Cancer Society does, Jones said.

More information on Relay for Life is available at www.relayforlife.org.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501)244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online Reporter Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-378-3887 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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