Walking all night to create more birthdays

Annual Relay for Life defeats Mother Nature while fighting cancer

Published: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 8:36 a.m. CDT

For nearly 100 years on the button, the American Cancer Society’s mission statement has been to save lives from cancer and to “create a world with more birthdays.”

For just over 28 of those years, Relay for Life has been the non-profit’s single greatest fundraiser.

Beginning at 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, 16 teams and 166 walkers descended upon Morris Community High School and walked to save a few more birthdays.

The event typically takes place outside on the track, but with the threat of rain looming throughout the week, alternatives had to be explored. With the help of the MCHS maintenance staff, the event was moved inside to the Dist. 101 Recreation Center.

It would wind up being the right call, as rains blanketed the area on Saturday night, and while the confines were slightly more cramped, eliminating the weather variable allowed the goal of raising money to help fight a disease that affects so many take center stage.

“The high school was amazing,” American Cancer Society representative Carrie Robinette said. “I called Steve Lutz on Friday morning because we were going to set up on Friday afternoon, and we just kept looking at the forecast and it was changing. So I made that phone call to him, and he just switched everything up and started making plans, and by the time I came and met with them, everything was done.”

After weeks and weeks of raising money and 14 hours of walking to support the cause while outsmarting Mother Nature, this weekend’s event went on to gross $40,064.50, netting over $37,000 for the American Cancer Society, which exceeded the initial goal. Leading the way in fundraising was the Minooka Community High School National Honor Society.

Over 100 members helped club advisor Donna Engel raise just under $13,000, propelling the Minooka NHS into the prestigious Jade Club tier of the American Cancer Society’s fundraising teams.

“We gave (NHS) a goal of raising $10,000, which we knew was a very lofty goal,” Engel said. “But our school community was hit hard this year with two teachers getting cancer and several students also getting cancer. So for the 100 members that we have to pull it together in two short months and raise $13,000 just shows you how awesome our school community is.”

Perhaps just as astounding as eclipsing their admittedly lofty goal by a staggering 30 percent, roughly 20 of the club’s members also chose to give up their Saturday night—a night so many teenagers hold sacred—to walk for the cause.

“They came on a bus, and they’re outside waiting for their bus to come back and get them,” Engel joked after closing ceremonies early Sunday morning. “Our mini-relay was in January, and it was the kickoff for Grundy County Relay for Life, but we wanted to come back out tonight and honor Mr. (Sam) Pavelka (one of the two Minooka teachers who found out they had cancer this last year along with Mr. Mike Assaf).”

Of course, many are influenced by the devastation cancer causes, and that’s why 16 teams and 166 walkers showed up to show support and help the relay hit the fundraising goal. Yet, in a long and grueling event like Relay for Life, it takes more than money to keep people involved and to make the event one that inspires people to return.

Team Ta-Ta Trot came decked out in pink to walk against breast cancer and they would go on to win the spirit award on the night. Meanwhile, Georgia’s Angels took home the award for the best campsite.

And, after 14 hours of walking, singing, dancing and just about every other activity you can think of, there was still between 75 and 100 people left in the stands waiting to hear how much money they had raised as the event concluded.

“It’s awesome. You know your event is successful when people stay. If you wind up standing here by yourself, you know that means it wasn’t a success. So, seeing people here at 6 in the morning as we finish up is the joy that I get from putting on this event,” Robinette said.

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