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Relay for Life returns

They will come for their loved ones.

They will fill the track at North Whidbey Middle School this Friday and Saturday for the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles they’ve lost. They will walk, run and march laps for the brothers and sisters now departed. They will continue to fight so they lose friends no more.

Opening pitch and opening ceremony for this year’s baseball themed Relay for Life is 5:30 p.m. Friday, with festivities continuing through the closing ceremony at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

This year’s “Field of Dreams: Build It and They Will Come” theme has been a long year in the making, and North Whidbey Relay for Life event chair Linda Kaser couldn’t be happier that it’s here.

“Everyone involved inspires me with their energy and determination,” she said. “You get to know the team captains and they charge you up — ‘Got some new shoes and I’m ready to go’.”

Ready to go they are. Kaser said 65 teams have officially signed up, but she said she expects a few more to stop by the event.

“Teams can form the day of the event,” she said.

And just because Friday and Saturday is the Relay for Life, don’t think it officially stops there. The fund-raising can continue until the official tally is turned into the American Cancer Society on Aug. 31.

“There’s not much rest for the Relay any more, the fight is always there,” Kaser said.

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life began in Tacoma with the vision of one man, Dr. Gordon Klatt, who in 1985 walked and ran 83 miles in 24 hours to raise more than $27,000. Relay for Life officially began in 1986 when 220 participants from the Puget Sound area joined Klatt in his relay. In 2006, Relay for Life was held in more than 4,300 communities and 20 countries.

North Whidbey was a forerunner in the Relay for Life movement, holding its first Relay in 1987.

Jackie Polk was the chair of this first North Whidbey event, Kaser said, and it is to her that the following Relays owe a big debt of gratitude.

“She really had to talk the community into it because no one had heard of it before,” she said.

Kaser has added admiration for Polk due to her ability to fight two fights at once — Polk died of cancer in 1991.

“Now everyone knows about Relay and the chairs that have followed have been able to build it to what it is today,” Kaser said.

And Kaser couldn’t be more grateful to those event coordinators who followed in Polk’s footsteps.

“The foundation wouldn’t be as strong if they hadn’t worked so hard,” she said.

While no one’s completely sure how much this first Relay raised, it is known that 19 years later, in 2006, the North Whidbey Relay for Life raised $179,000, according to Kaser. This year, the North Whidbey Relay for Life will celebrate its 20th birthday with much pride and a goal of over $200,000. Chairs and co-chairs from years past will be honored beginning with the opening ceremony.

Teams have already built a foundation of success for this year’s Relay fund-raising. As of reports from last week, teams have already raised $80,000 prior to the event, which Kaser said is a strong jump start.

“Last year we started $66,000 the day of Relay,” she said.

Kaser said teams have been going above and beyond this year to get the word out about Relay for Life and pound the pavement to raise money for the fight against cancer. First United Methodist Church held a baked potato night. Delta Tau had a bunco night. The Oak Harbor Middle School Panther’s Pride team has been busy selling hotdogs. Now until Friday people can stop by Paint Your World to create tiles to benefit the Relay thanks to efforts of the Broadview/Hillcrest team.

Even teams that don’t have a fund-raising forté are finding their Relay niche, such as the Oak Harbor High School Key Club, which has been busy organizing all of the games and activities for this year’s Relay.

“The team’s synergy is amazing,” Kaser said. “They show that individually we may be one, but when we join together we are a powerful community working to fight cancer. You can’t help but go away feeling excited.”

This is the sixth year that Kaser has been with the local Relay. Even though her time has been off-and-on, she, like other busy people involved, can’t help but come back each year.

“You can’t help but want to keep going,” she said.

Already, Kaser and the Relay for Life committee are getting in gear for the next Relay. Like they did this year, she and other key committee members will attend training in September. Team captain meetings begin in November. The official 2008 kickoff will come in January. And the spring will once again see a flurry of fund-raising efforts by teams building up to what is hoped to be another successful Relay in June.

“You’re given the strength knowing that for every person you meet who is diagnosed and has the courage to fight cancer you’re helping make sure 10 to 20 more make it,” Kaser said.

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