24-hour fun

Relay for Life raises $315,000 for cancer research

Following the Survivors Lap that begins the Blount County Relay for Life each year, survivors gather for a group photo on the steps of Proffitt Dining Hall at Maryville College.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Following the Survivors Lap that begins the Blount County Relay for Life each year, survivors gather for a group photo on the steps of Proffitt Dining Hall at Maryville College.

Relay for Life raised $315,000 for cancer research and drew more than 2,500 people to the Maryville College campus in the first 24-hour version of the annual event.

This year’s event, chaired by Linda Whitehead, was held May 21 and 22.

A few days after the Relay, Whitehead said about $305,000 was raised, which was short of their $365,000 goal. “We are little bit ahead of where we were this time last year,” she said.

On Tuesday, June 1, Whitehead had good news. “”We’re right at $315,000. That’s $11,000 more than we had when Relay finished,” she said. “We finished up last year at $317,000. We can continue fundraising until Aug. 31, and several teams have events planned between now and August.”

Whitehead said a majority of counties are behind in their fundraising goals this year. “We were in competition with Sevier County. They were at $260,000,” she said.

The event chair said the slow economy has been a challenge this year. “Of course with the economy, people are cutting back. Overall donations and corporate sponsorships are down and that seems to be a trend I’m seeing with a majority of nonprofits,” she said. “I feel our teams have done an outstanding job of making up the difference. I’m very proud of them. They’ve stepped up and continued fundraising in the fight against cancer.”

This year Relay for Life changed from a 12-hour to a 24-hour event and Whitehead said the length of the event was this year’s major change. “This is a learning year on that for us to decide what works best. One thing we noticed was that on Saturday we had wonderful participation in runs and bike rides, but the numbers were off for community participation,” she said. “I think it goes back to people being used to it being a Friday night event.”

Whitehead said 192 people signed up for the CPS-3 long-term study that tracks participant’s health over a 20- to 30-year period. “That was outstanding,” she said. “We were very pleased.”

The number of walkers who signed up for Relay was approximately 1,100 walkers signed up for the Relay. “I’d say we had at least 2,500 people attending the event,” said Whitehead. “At one point in the night people were up dancing, having a wonderful time.”

Whitehead said she was very impressed with the new teams. “We had 23 new teams this year -- teams that had never participated, and I was so pleased. One team I was very impressed with was Team Claire from William Blount High School,” she said. “The students from the school who pushed Clair around. They also had a jail set up, and they had so much fun with that.”

Tammy Ferguson was working at the Team Claire tent, named in honor of Clair Hayes, a 15-year-old William Blount Freshmen Academy student. “She was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer in January,” Ferguson said. “She’s a freshman at William Blount High School, and all those kids with her are from the Freshmen Academy.”

Whitehead said Team Claire was an inspiration. “That team was outstanding. They rallied around her all night long,” she said.

Whitehead also praised Team Overton. “They did an outstanding job. It’s a family helping to fight against cancer. They were very instrumental in the funds raised for the Womanless Beauty Contest,” Whitehead said. “We raised $4,000 during the event. The winner was the contestant representing East Tennessee Medical Center.

The event chair said Marriott Business Services raised more than $2,000 and gave way a Marriott bed. “That was phenomenal,” she said.

Whitehead said she, like others in the Relay, volunteer their time preparing for the event in the hopes of finding a cure for cancer. “I have so many friends and family who have been touched by cancer, and I don’t want people in the future to ever have to hear that word, ‘cancer.’ That is why we spend so many hours and so much time on this event,” she said.

Christy Newman, community affairs manager with Alcoa, Inc., was walking with her husband, Phillip Newman. “We always have a booth, and we like to support all that is done here,” she said of Alcoa’s Relay efforts. “It’s a good community event.

Phillip Newman said Relay is always fun and the barbecue sold by vendors is a good treat. “It’s a good community event,” he said.

Carrie Ridenour coordinated the luminaries that were sold in honor or in memory of individuals affected by cancer. Ridenour said the luminary bags were selling well the evening of the Relay. “We had one woman buy 30 bags. This is my second year doing it. Why do I do this? Because one day I hope my son’s kids won’t know what cancer is,” she said.

Marlon Matthews coordinated overnight activities to keep everyone entertained. Matthews lost his grandmother to cancer, and it motivated him to be involved in Relay.

“It’s very important to me. This is like the Super Bowl. So many people have been touched by cancer and so many want to stand up to do something about it,” Matthews said. “Right now 1-in-3 people are affected by cancer. We need to get that down to 1-in-5 and maybe 1-in-10.”

Matthews said he wants to get young people at the Relay involved in fundraising to fight cancer. “I definitely want to charge them up,” he said. “I want to get them involved.”

John Skinner of Rockford said Relay for Life is very important to him. “It’s something we should all support. Cancer is serious, and we should all do what we can to find a cure and support those challenged by it.”

Derrick Blankenship of Blount County and Tyson Bryan of Seymour were dressed for the Womanless Beauty Contest and each said they were helping out in memory of a co-worker who lost a battle with cancer.

“We lost one of our physical therapists three weeks ago and that’s the reason we’re out here,” Blankenship said.

David Lazar with Alcoa, Inc., was selling chances to guess the number of cans in a crushed bale of aluminum cans. There was also a game in which participants paid $1 to balance three aluminum cans of water on their edge. The contestant had to drink the water in the first can and then balance it on the table but they could pour out the approximate amount needed to balance the last two cans on the table.

The Alcoa, Inc,/United Steel Workers Local 309 team had raised about $6,500 before Relay. “And tonight we raised close to $1,000,” he said. “We’ve been doing this six or seven years.”

Linda Smith, with Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, said several members of the church have been affected by cancer, either directly or indirectly. “Each person has a reason they relay,” she said. “This is our common bond. It’s our team.”

Brenda Giles of Blount County is a 37-year survivor who was diagnosed when she was 2 years old. “I had chemotherapy and radiation, and I went into remission in a little less than a year,” she said.

Giles said she enjoyed the Survivor’s Walk where cancer survivors take the first lap to kick off Relay as supporters cheer them on. “You feel not worthy of the praise, but it is wonderful seeing that many people surviving,” she said.

Junior Service League of Maryville members were on hand to officially cut the ribbon on the Children’s Play area set up just for Relay. Complete with inflatable games, water games, face-painting and “beauty” make-overs, but the members added something new to the area this year - a permanent name.

“The Knoll: Where Kids Play at Relay” was named in honor of past-president of JSL Susan Knoll. The plan was created among members of Knoll’s JSL class from 2001, who wanted to honor her work as a teacher, community volunteer and now as a cancer survivor. Susan was diagnosed with a brain tumor in late 2009 and is currently undergoing treatments.

Charity Bragg Thompson spear-headed the event. “Knowing how much Susan and her sister, Sharon, love volunteering at Relay each year and knowing what an impact Susan has made on so many in our community through working with children, it seemed like a natural fit to have the Children’s Area at Relay bear the name of one of the strongest fighters around,” Bragg said. “Since Susan now knows from a personal perspective the impact that cancer research has on each family and the importance of raising funds and awareness through the American Cancer Society, this seemed like the perfect tribute to such a fine woman.”

Whitney Cox, a sustainer member with Junior Service League, said the JSL coordinated the Children’s area as a fundraiser for Relay for Life. “We wanted to name this in her honor,” Cox said. “For a $5 donation each, children got to play as long as they wanted on the inflatables.”

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