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* There are often special fun activities, geared at increasing public attendance, such as live entertainment, an auction, or what have you. We hold our Relay events at the county fairgrounds, and one of our teams holds a tractor pull to coincide with Relay night, giving the tractor pull audience the chance to wander over and get their concessions from the Relay.

* There are traditional ceremonies and moments observed at every Relay, and these can be tremendously moving for registered participants and the public alike. The Relay begins with a “survivors lap.” Before the team walkers take the track, all of the cancer survivors who are present are asked to take a lap of the track so that we can honor them for their perseverance and celebrate their survival. After the survivor lap comes the caregiver lap, where anyone who has taken care of a cancer patient is honored. Then, at least at our Relay, the teams are introduced one by one, not unlike the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, and march around carrying an identifying sign or banner.

At some time after dark, as I mentioned earlier, comes the luminaria ceremony. The luminary – a candle in a paper bag – has become the symbol of Relay. Donors purchase luminaria, on which are written messages of tribute (“In memory of Carrie Carney”), support (“Keep up the fight, Don”) or what have you. When it’s time for the luminaria ceremony, all of the normal lights are turned off and the track is lit only by the luminaria (and related items, such as torches, LED balloons or sky lanterns, which some Relay events may use). There’s a special recitation or ceremony in honor of cancer victims. Balloons or sky lanterns may be released in tribute.

Another Relay tradition, held at different times depending on a Relay’s schedule, is the “fight back” ceremony, in which participants pledge to make lifestyle changes, support cancer research, and so on.

A Relay, even the 12-hour kind, is always held overnight, for symbolic reasons – it symbolizes the dark night of a cancer patient’s experience, and the procession from darkness into light (hopefully remission, or at least an end to pain).

In practical terms, the wee hours of the morning are often punctuated with fun activities to try to keep walkers’ spirits and energy up. In Bedford County, one such activity is an enormous game of musical chairs, all around the perimeter of the track.

At the end of the Relay, there may be awards given, for the team that raised the most money, or had the best camp site decorations, or the most team spirit or what have you. Our Relay gives each team a pedometer, which is to be worn by whomever is the team’s official on-track walker at any given moment. We give an award for the team that records the most steps on their pedometer. Sometimes, overall fund-raising awards may wait until the fall, because technically the Relay For Life year runs from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31 regardless of when a community’s Relay event is held, and some teams hold fund-raisers even after the Relay event.

If you live here in Bedford County, you can find out more about our event right here. If you’re from elsewhere, follow this link and look up the closest Relay event to your area.

I know that you’ve been touched by cancer. Someone in your family, your church, your circle of friends, or your workplace – and maybe someone from each of those places – has either survives or been lost to cancer. The American Cancer Society helps fund life-saving research, and provides or supports programs like Hope Lodge and Look Good, Feel Better to address the needs of cancer patients. It’s a worthy cause, deserving of your support. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun, as you can see here:

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John Carney is a journalist, a certified United Methodist lay speaker, a veteran of foreign and domestic short-term mission trips, and author of a self-published novel, Soapstone.