Survivors are local superheroes

August 7, 2018

Survivors, superheroes and favorable weather came out in support of the 2018 Relay For Life of Rock River this weekend at the Watertown High School track.

Out of a total of 24 teams that participated in fund-raising activities during the past year for the relay, event lead Kay Christian said about 18 teams were out at the event itself, supporting cancer survivors and caregivers. One team even signed up the day of the event.

Christian said a big success of this year’s event was the survivor participation -- almost double the amount from last year, she said. “It was huge,” she reported. “There were a lot of new people, (and) there were a lot of people who came back.”

The theme of this year’s relay was “Superheroes.” Team campsites were decorated in superhero-related themes, including a big blow-up Spiderman on top of one tent. Team members dressed up as various superhero characters -- Wonder Woman, Batman, Batgirl and an Avenger among them.

“It turned out cute … the kids loved it,” noted Christian. “We had lots of pictures.”

A total of 60 survivors were honored at the survivor/sponsor ceremony Friday evening. Survivors were given special pins, roses donated by Watertown Regional Medical Center and purple capes to wear, in keeping with the superhero theme. Caregivers also received pins.

This year’s honorary cancer survivor, Tammy Dowling, gave a speech prior to the survivor lap on Friday. Christian said it was short, but nevertheless impactful. ”(Dowling said,) I know I can kick cancer. I know I’m only a year out, but with the support of family and the community, how can I not beat it?,” remembered Christian.

“That’s such an important thing that she said … it’s realizing that you are loved, that you are cared for, that they will fight for you, they will feed you, they will comfort you. That was the core of her speech,” continued Christian. “The speech was short, but everybody got it.”

A luminaria ceremony followed on Friday night, with about 200 luminaria lit in honor of cancer survivors, those who lost their battles to cancer as well as caregivers. On Saturday morning, around 50 people gathered for a balloon release -- an activity that Christian called an “emotional release.”

During the relay, it’s times like the survivor ceremony, luminaria ceremony and balloon release that participants are reminded of why they are there.

“Our superheroes are our survivors … that’s what Relay For Life is, to support our survivors and to make them feel they’re not alone,” said Christian.

At Saturday morning’s closing ceremony, winners of the Relay For Life campsite- and window-decorating contests were announced. Team campsite winners were: first place, Landyn Strong; second place, Adams Family; and third place, Myles for Matt. Business window-decorating winners were: first place, Sandra D’s; second place, Watertown Memorial Company; and third place, Closet Hanger.

The total amount of money raised as of Saturday’s closing ceremony was $56,500. This year’s fundraising goal is $72,000 and teams have until Aug. 16 to take in donations for this year’s event. Money gathered after that date will be put towards next year’s event.

“You want to raise as much money as possible -- that’s the point -- but the American Cancer Society can do wonderful things with $56,500,” said Christian. “There’s such a need for that money for research. Everybody thinks that’s where it all goes, but there’s so many more programs that the ACS is a part of and contributing to.”

One thing Christian hopes to improve for next year is to bring in more people from the general public to participate in relay activities -- not for money, but for the experience.

“The mission for next year is to make people realize how important it is to come down and be a part of this event,” said Christian. “It doesn’t mean you’re giving money; it means you’re going to take a lap or two around the track for someone you know who has cancer. Everybody knows someone who has cancer.”

Christian encourages the community to participate in the relay activities down the road. “It’s not just about fundraising; it’s also about emotional support to our survivors and caregivers,” she said. “It means so much to them that there are people out there.”

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