Record Relay turnout expected

North Whidbey Relay for Life Event Chair Linda Kaiser, left, prepares to hand out T-shirts to teams at Remax, Wednesday.  - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News Times
North Whidbey Relay for Life Event Chair Linda Kaiser, left, prepares to hand out T-shirts to teams at Remax, Wednesday.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News Times

At night, men and women sporting purple T-shirts walk past white, paper bags lit with candles. Written on each of the bags is the name of a loved one who is battling or who has died from cancer; representing both a memorial and celebration of survival.

This is the Luminari Ceremony and part of Oak Harbor’s June 6 and 7 Relay for Life, an overnight event that raises money and awareness for the American Cancer Society.

The event will be held at the Whidbey Middle School track, beginning at 5:30 p.m., Friday. Event Chair Linda Kaiser said this year’s theme is, “No place like hope.”

“The track is kind of our yellow-brick road,” she said, referring to the Wizard of Oz.

About 82 area teams will participate, making this the largest turnout in the relay’s 21 year history.

Kaiser said the goal is to have at least one person from each team walking the track at all times.

“The symbolism is that cancer never sleeps and neither will we,” she said.

Some people choose to run the entire time, she said, and others will sit on the sidelines and cheer. A few of the cancer patients can only do one lap.

“One year, a Navy dentist ran 300 laps; that’s 75 miles in one night,” Kaiser said.

Friday’s opening ceremony will feature a speech by the Miche sisters. Their mother is a four-time cancer survivor and all three sisters were screened and diagnosed with cervical cancer. They’ve been featured in publications and appeared on the Today Show, encouraging people to be proactive about treatment.

At 6 p.m., the rock band KG3 will perform, followed by the Living Word Fellowship band, which will play during the Luminari Ceremony at 10 p.m.

A country rock band, Wickersham, and contemporary band, The Archives, will play later that evening. The line-up also includes soloist Ryan Rogers on the jazz saxophone.

In the school’s cafeteria, attendees can sign-up for the Cancer Prevention Study-3 program; a study that will help determine why some people get cancer and others do not. North Whidbey was one of 70 relays selected from throughout North America.

“It was chosen for its diverse population. They’re really interested in looking at men and minorities,” Kaiser said.

People between ages 30 and 65, who haven’t been diagnosed with cancer, are asked to visit the three stations and fill out paper work, have their blood drawn and get a waist measurement. Team Chair Karla Sharkey said that every two years a new packet will arrive in the mail for participants to fill out.

“It’s a long-term commitment of about 20 to 25 years,” Sharkey said. “They’re looking at things like nutrition, exercise and second-hand smoke.”

Sharkey has been involved with Relay for Life for the past 14 years, but said the event really began to resonate with her last year, when her mother-in-law died from cancer.

“She passed away before my children were born. I think it’s important we help keep people alive to be able to see their grandchildren,” she said.

It isn’t too late to sign up, Sharkey said. People can still form a team until the day of the ceremony. She encourages residents to visit the Relay for Life website at

“Cancer hits everywhere,” she said. “Every dollar we make is one step toward finding cures.”

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