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Date of Issue: June 04, 2008

Relayers rally to fight cancer

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Fighting back
The Walters family - Jack, 10, piggybacking Anni, 7, and Seth, 8, piggybacking Tori, 7, take the track during the Anna Maria Island Relay for Life May 31 at Coquina Beach. The event, which stretched overnight, raised money for the American Cancer Society. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff
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Cancer survivors begin the first lap during the Anna Maria Island Relay for Life.

Barbara Rischmann lost her husband recently to lung cancer.

She remembered him as she walked the track May 31 at the Anna Maria Island Relay for Life, a benefit for the American Cancer Society at Coquina Beach.

A survivor of breast cancer, she also walked the track for herself and others who have survived to fight back, raise awareness and invest in a cure.

"I'm done with my treatment and cancer free," she said, lifting a pink baseball cap to show off her short hair. "I'm here because I just wanted to show my support. We're all in this together."

RFL is ACS's signature activity - hundreds of relays take place across the country with 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., colorectal surgeon, wanted 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 AMIRFL brought together teams of volunteers, many of whom pledged at least $100 to the cause and raised money with other events leading up to the relay and overnight camp-out at Coquina Beach.

Many of the walkers either were survivors of cancer, battling cancer, or family or friends of people who have experienced those battles.

"We relay because we've all been touched by cancer," said Laura McAdams, the event's co-chair. "And we're here to put a stop to cancer.... You're making a difference."

"Together," said organizer Kimberly Borsheim, "we will continue to fight back."

To break up the potential monotony of circling the track for hours, organizers added some twists to the walks - poker laps, crazy-hat laps, three-legged laps and "walk like an Egyptian" laps.

Musicians and a DJ turned out to entertain while the volunteers make their laps. Also, the Anna Maria Island Privateers were on board with activities, along with a children's festival coordinated by Cindy Thompson and hosted by the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce team.

When all the checks, paper bills and coins are counted, AMIRFL organizers hope to have raised at least $35,000, which is committed to the local American Cancer Society chapter.