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Relay for Life inspires hope, combats cancer

Celebrating hope was the central theme at last weekend’s 19th annual North Whidbey American Cancer Society Relay for Life in Oak Harbor, but fund raising was the goal.

The relay has raised $158,500 so far. That’s shy of the $210,000 goal for this year but there’s still time to raise more cash. The final tally of donations will come in after August 31 when this year’s fund raising officially ends.

Held at the North Whidbey Middle School track next to Highway 20, the two-day event saw over 1,500 individual walkers taking laps.

The single organization that raised the most money was Upchurch Scientific out of Oak Harbor, which collected $21,540. Their team consisted of 20 walkers who were supported and cheered on by the over 100 employees.

For the Upchurch Scientific team, the motivation to reach their goal was very clear.

“We’ve all had personal losses,” said Karla Sharkey an Upchurch Scientific employee and team captain, “family members, friends, and in-laws.” This was the company’s second year in a row in the number one spot.

Relay for Life, a walking marathon benefiting cancer research, saw a crowd of hundreds of participants, survivors and supporters gather to open the event in a heartfelt ceremony Friday afternoon.

Businesses, social groups and civic organizations sponsor teams that raise money by walking the track continuously, one team member at a time in relay style.

“Fifty-eight groups have set up their teams out here,” said Phoebe Hostick, American Cancer Society community relations manager as she motioned toward to the sea of tents dotting the track’s infield. “Everyone’s ready to get started.”

The prescribed goal of the event is to help eliminate cancer as a major health problem.

Participants, organizers and cancer survivors could be identified by different color T-shirts: purple for participants, pink for organizers and blue for cancer survivors.

Those clad in the blue shirts understand the need for more research more than anyone.

“I’m still fighting my cancer,” said Richard VanSchoick of Coupeville as he walked the track. “It’s so great to see a lot of community involvement.”

Following a posting of the colors ceremony by the Honor Guard from the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, singing of the National Anthem and a few dedication speeches hundreds of walkers took to the track.

Joey Luvera, an 18-year-old who has survived two bouts with cancer, gave an emotional keynote speech that offered inspiration to others battling the disease.

First diagnosed at 14, Luvera was given until December 2004 to live. Now he is about to graduate high school and his doctors say he is cancer free.

“I don’t take anything for granted,” said Luvera, standing next to a banner with the word “hope” on it. “My doctor said my recovery was a miracle.”

According to event organizers the success of Relay for Life is a reflection of the work of supporters in the community.

“I want to thank you for your giving spirit,” Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen to the crowd gathered for the ceremony. “This is a wonderful cause.”

The overnight walking part of the relay began with survivors taking the first lap and setting the track awash in a field of blue shirts. A total of 165 cancer survivors attended the relay.

With the relay over for this year the hard-working event organizers can barely take a moment to reflect on it all.

“We’re already thinking about next year’s theme and moving towards the next goal,” said Myron Brundage, chairman of North Whidbey Relay for Life.

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