Celebrate, Remember, Fight back

Relay for Life is ready for 24 hours of commemoration and celebration

If Rick Shepard could get one point across to the public it’s this: Relay for Life is for everyone.

Shepard, co-chair with his wife, Cindy, of the 2008 Relay for Life wants the community to know that you don’t even have to be on a team to enjoy the evening.

Relay for Life begins at 6 p.m. Friday and ends at 6 a.m. Saturday on the campus of Maryville College. Some teams have been working all year to raise money for cancer research. But many of the teams raise some of their donations the night of relay, selling items at their tents.

It’s a community event, Shepard said.

“What I want to get across to the community is that this is a public event. You don’t have to walk all night. You don’t have to walk at all. It is really a big country fair -- with food, shows, arts, crafts, a silent auction and lots of good entertainment. We’ll have probably 200 booths with people selling arts and crafts. We’ve got a silent auction with 300 items that raises $20,000 to $30,000, and we have three to five significant items for the live auction.”

The teams are the backbone, Shepard said, and that has gone well this year. In early May, they had 135 teams registered, translating to about 1,400 people. “That was double over last year’s final numbers, and we still had 30 days left,” he said. “The team participation has been wonderful.”

One of the big pushes this year has also been to bring out more cancer survivors to the event. Survivors are honored at Relay for Life, and Shepard wants more than the 175 who came last year.

“Last year we had 175 survivor’s attend. We really would like to have 400 to 500. We know there are 10,000 people who are cancer survivors in Blount County. We want those people to come,” he said. “Survivors are key to the event. The survivors need to know this is an event that is meaningful to them and their families.”

Carolyn Forster said this is her first year chairing the Survivor’s committee. “We’ve got a great committee that has been working hard. We’re going to have a lot of wonderful ways for our survivors to be celebrated,” she said.

“It’s time to get the word out. We have a pretty high number of cancer survivors in our community,” she said. “A lot of people just don’t know that is open to all the community and not just team members.”

Forster, whose husband Fred battled cancer last year, said Relay for Life is a way the community can recognize survivors who’ve come through a tough time in their life. “We’re trying to get the word out,” she said. “Every single year we run into people who said they didn’t know it was for everybody.”

Shepard said the theme for the 2008 Relay is to “celebrate, remember and fight back.”

“We begin by celebrating our survivors. We want to rejoice with them,” he said.

A touching luminaries ceremony brings in the “remember” part of the theme.

“We remember those who lost the battle, and we also honor the survivors with the luminaries,” he said. “The bags lining the path are in honor or in memory of individuals.”

The main focus of “fighting back” is raising money.

“Fighting back is what every one of us does by raising money and getting needed checkups,” Shepard said.

The Survivors ceremony begins at 7 p.m., and there is a special reception area and handicapped parking for survivors. The survivors do the first lap, and are joined by their caregivers on the second lap.

“It’s really an emotional thing,” Shepard said.

Shepard said this year’s Relay will have two full stages for entertainment because the Relay has grown so much.

“We’ll have one stage between Fayerweather and Anderson halls, and the main stage will actually be in the center of the campus looking toward Maryville,” he said. “In order to get sound distributed, we had to put the main stage in the center. The other stage is for Relay Idol competition, the Womanless Beauty Contest, the Newlywed Game and other activities all throughout the night.”

In 2007 there were more than 3,000 who turned out for the Relay. “We claim we’re the second largest relay in the state based on money, but the largest attended in the state,” Shepard said. “This is the second largest public event by attendance with the number one being the Fall Festival.”

Shepard said the event is for the whole community. “Come to the event to eat, barbecue, picnic. We have all kinds of things going on, including Dave Bennett and his fried Twinkies.”

Friday schedule of events

• 6 p.m. - Opening Ceremony

• 6:30 p.m. - Survivors Ceremony

• 6:30 p.m. - Silent Auction Opens

• 7 p.m. - Live Music w/Back Seat Delliahs and Can’t Hardly Play Boys

• 7-11 p.m. - Relay Idol (2nd Stage)

• 8 p.m. - Live Auction

• 8:45 p.m. - Live Music with Jimmy Morgan / Show by Barney Fife

• 9:30-11 p.m. - Womenless Beauty Pageant

• 10 p.m. - Luminaria Ceremony

• 12 a.m. - The Newlywed Game

• 1:15 a.m. - Team Scavenger Hunt

• 2 a.m. Frozen T-shirt Contest

• 2:15 a.m. - Biggest Hair Contest

• 2:30 a.m. - Face Art Contest and Best Tattoo

• 3:30 a.m. - Jazzercise

• 4:15 a.m. - Fear Factor

• 5 a.m. - Chug and Crush

• 6 a.m. - Closing Ceremony

Marriott Business Services

One team that has been working hard for toward this weekend’s Relay for Life is Marriott Business Services.

This spring, Marriott Business Services employees have been golfing, gardening and chasing Jack Russell terriers. If those don’t sound like ways to fight cancer, you just don’t know the creativity of this team.

In 2007, Marriott Business Services joined the Relay for Life effort “late in the game” and ended up raising $20,000 to help fight cancer.

This year, the Alcoa company took time to prepare for the annual Relay for Life campaign. In early May, they had 17 teams and had plans for fund-raisers ranging from a golf tournament at Rarity Pointe, a “Cultivate a Cure” garden contest and, yes, a Jack Russell Terrier race.

In addition to the money raised in the expedited campaign, company leaders learned just how much cancer touches individuals in the community.

Matt Webb and Doug Sergeant said the Relay for Life campaign has resonated well with the associates at Marriott Business Services.

Webb said the company employees joined the Relay “late in the game” in 2007, but rallied to finish well. “We had a big push and ended up raising $20,000. This year we set a goal for $30,000,” he said. “This year we planned a little better. This is a community effort, and we’re on board with it.”

The creative thinking helped keep things fun. As of early May, the team had raised almost $20,000. The Cultivate a Cure contest brought out the best in Blount County’s gardeners.

“We judged Blount County’s best garden landscapes. We had people entering from the community, 25 registered and we judged their gardens,” Webb said.

Webb said company associates also held rummage sales as well as a golf tournament at Rarity Pointe.

One of the more unique fund-raisers this year was the Jack Russell Relay Race in Knoxville on May 31 at Petsafe Park at the Young-Williams Animal Center. “They’re quick little dogs,” Webb said.

In addition, the company is sponsoring the luminaries, the paper bags illuminated by candles placed in honor of individuals affected by cancer. The luminaries are $5 each and can be reserved in honor of or in memory of a loved one.

The luminaries have added a serious aspect to the campaign.

“Michael Cullen, our senior vice president, is main sponsor for the luminaries,” Webb said. “Everybody is touched by cancer. Everyone can think of relatives or friends or someone who has lost the battle or won it. The luminaries help celebrate and remember those people.”

Sergeant echoed those thoughts. “In general, there are so few people cancer doesn’t touch. It touches everyone. Everyone is a caregiver or has someone touched by cancer,” he said.

The push this year grew because the 2007 campaign tapped into something those leading the efforts never even expected. “It had tapped into something that profoundly affected our associates. It picked up, and we had no idea it was going to,” Sergeant said.

In 2008, associates’ enthusiasm for Relay for Life was even stronger as those touched by cancer spoke openly about their battles. “Being a Marriott employee helped them, It’s a tight culture, an amazing culture. I think that’s the family aspect, the fact we’re all so close knit and it made everyone get on board with those who survived or battled cancer,” Webb said.

The day of the kickoff, one of the associates announced she was diagnosed with cancer. “It has drummed up a lot of support,” Webb said. “We had a couple of associates step forward and state, ‘I battled cancer and won.’ We started putting faces with stories. It resonated across the organization.”

Webb said there are 207 associates planning to participate in this year’s relay. Sergeant said those associates had formed 17 teams.

“We’re expecting half the organization there that night,” Webb said.

Sergeant said there are 500 associates at Marriott. “It was amazing how our culture is so engrained with the spirit to serve,” he said. “It’s no problem getting people to step up and serve. That’s a good testament to the way we operate. We’re in Blount County for a reason, we love this community,” he said.

Webb encouraged others to come out the night of the Relay.

“It’s a great family atmosphere. There will be a lot going on. There will be a kid’s area, there will be Blount County Idol to find best singer in Blount County, there will be a womanless beauty contest,” he said with a laugh. “Find out how men really look in long dresses.”

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