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Date of Issue: May 20, 2009

Relay walkers rally against cancer

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Luminarias are sold during the Island Relay for Life May 16 at Coquina Beach to raise money for the American Cancer Society and to honor those who have struggled with cancer. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff
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The National Anthem is sung during the opening ceremony of the Island Relay for Life. The costumed Darth Vader and Storm Trooper attended to participate in the walk, and to pose for photographs.
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Cancer survivor and Relay for Life fundraiser Nancy Ambrose receives a "star supporter" shirt from Ryan Rafferdy and Kim Borsheim during the Island Relay for Life. Ambrose herself raised more than $7,000.
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A lap recognizing cancer survivors and caretakers takes place during the Island Relay for Life benefiting the American Cancer Society.

Walkers in the Anna Maria Island Relay for Life rallied against cancer and united to celebrate survival.

The Island Relay for Life took place on Coquina Beach May 16-17 and, with 20 relay teams participating, was expected to generate about $38,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Relay for Life is the organization’s signature activity — hundreds of relays take place across the country teams gathering for overnight relays on beaches and in parks, stadiums and fields.

The Relay for Life dates back to 1985, when Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma, Wash., surgeon, wanted to decided to boost the income of his local American Cancer Society office with a marathon. In May 1985, Klatt spent 24 hours circling a track at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. He ran for more than 83 miles and raised about $27,000 from donors who gathered to watch.

The next year, Klatt and Pat Flynn formally created Relay for Life with 19 teams who raised $33,000.

Now an estimated 3.5 million people participate in RFL events each year. There are similarities to each of the events — ceremonial walks involving cancer survivors and caregivers, the lighting of luminarias in memory of those who have died and rallying speeches for research money for cures and improved treatments.

The Island event began and ended with a ceremony, and, over the course of the afternoon and night, involved a variety of fun and games on and off the makeshift relay track.

“We want to make a difference in the fight against cancer,” said organizer Ryan Rafferdy. “Together we will continue to fight back.”

Rafferdy told a crowd of walkers, most of them gathered in white and purple T-shirts, that their efforts raised money for “research that is saving lives.”

Organizer Kim Borsheim said, “Activities like Relay for Life do make a difference.”

After the opening ceremony, which featured the singing of the National Anthem and praise for fundraising efforts, cancer survivors took a victory lap, and were then joined by their caretakers and loved ones in a second lap.

Some survivors had defeated cancer for a few months and some for more than 20 years. Some, such as Nellie Halston of Bradenton, had defeated cancer six times over the past 40 years.

“I couldn’t do it without the support of a community like this,” Halston said as she walked the track with several friends and family members.

The evening progressed with teams selling a variety of food and beverages and arts and crafts to raise money for the ACS, as well as listening to music by Larry Wilhelm, Later Days, Blues Pig and Highway 41.

Throughout the event, team members walked laps, often to fit a theme — dressed in purple, walking backward, wearing togas, dancing the conga, hopping in trash bags.

“We really have a good time out here,” said walker Krista Evans of Bradenton.