05/12/05 — Relay for Life grows into $500,000 event

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Relay for Life grows into $500,000 event

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on May 12, 2005 1:56 PM

What began as a few people gathering to raise a few thousand dollars for the American Cancer Society has, over 15 years, turned into a major event in Wayne County that now raises more than a half million dollars a year.

The annual Relay for Life had its beginnings in 1990 -- the brainchild of five members of a running club at the Family Y -- Dr. Lee Adams, Janis Faircloth, C.C. Wilkins, Jack Kannan and Diana Pike.

The first relays were held at the Family Y for several years. Teams ran or walked in relay fashion during the 24-hour event. The first year, there were 20 teams with 10 or more members participating. They raised $20,000 for cancer research.

Businesses got involved by donating coffee, soft drinks, food, videos and a big screen TV for children to watch.

Kannan said at the end of the initial event that "this has got to be the most successful 24-hour walk/run event in the state. And the thing about it is they're having fun. We're just having a big slumber party."

During the second year, more than $25,000 was raised, despite a rainy weekend.

The event officially became the Relay for Life in 1996. A special ceremony to honor those who were battling cancer and in memory of those who lost their battle with cancer was added. More than 400 luminarias were lit during the nighttime ceremony to honor cancer victims and survivors.

In 1997, the events goal was to raise $60,000. Thirty teams participated.

The next year, the relay was moved from the Family Y to Eastern Wayne High School to accommodate the growing number of participants. That year, more than 900 people attended and $96,000 was raised.

The event continued to grow.

In 1999, the event was especially inspirational as long-time Goldsboro Mayor Hal Plonk made a surprise appearance. Plonk had undergone surgery for prostate cancer the previous year and had recently had chemotherapy for leukemia and was only released from the hospital the Sunday before the event.

As the years went by, relay teams began to develop themes for their overnight campsites and awards were given to the most creative ones.

Luminarias increased in number and were used to line the track and spelled out the word "Hope" in the bleachers.

During the 2000 relay, 127 cancer survivors participated in the cancer survivor's lap, which has since become a fixture at the start of the event. That year, there were more than 1,200 luminarias. About 1,500 people attended and there were 61 relay teams. The event raised $143,990.

In 2001, more than 200 cancer survivors took part in the survivor lap, carrying purple balloons.

Relay teams began to get even more competitive with their campsites, coming up with unique themes and decorations. One had a cowboy them, "Round Up A Cure For Cancer." Another had a castle for a backdrop, with the theme "Ig-Knighting A Cure For Cancer." A campsite entitled "Life, Liberty and Pursuit Of A Cure" featured a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Another used a Hawaiian theme, "Leading Survivors Through The Tropic Of Cancer," complete with pink flamingos and tropical plants.

The 2002 Relay raised $407,000. But the event had a sad overtone. Plonk, who was honorary chairman of that year's event, died shortly before the relay. But even bad weather didn't hinder the walkers. There were 88 teams representing 15 schools, 31 businesses, 20 churches, two hospitals, a fire department, the sheriff's office, the base, state employees and cancer survivors.

In 2003, a special heart-shape of luminarias was dedicated to Jerry Best, a sheriff's captain who was killed in an accident in November 2002. Relay co-chairman Terry Butler estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 people attended. About 6,000 purple bows were sold to raise even more money for cancer research.

Last year, the Relay for Life set a new record for money-raising, bringing in $503,000 as 90 teams and 350 corporate sponsors took part.

Organizers decided after last year's event that it had outgrown the Eastern Wayne High setting and moved this year's event to Wayne Community College. The relay, which starts at 6 p.m. on Friday, will last until noon Saturday. The goal is to raise at least $500,000 again this year. More than 100 teams are entered.