BENNINGTON -- Dedicated relayers will know to get their sleep in now because they’ll be lapping the high school track through the night the weekend of June 23-24. And while "cancer doesn’t sleep" and relayers continue through the rain, most are likely hoping for less of a deluge this year.
"We proved that relayers are tough, they persevere. ... Hopefully we passed the test," said event co-chair Erica Rogers, on the heels of a damp event in 2011.
With more than 460 participants registered between 40 teams, last Wednesday’s pre-event "bank day" tallied over $47,000 for the 17th annual Bennington County Relay for Life, in addition to $17,000 raised through sponsorships.
"We’re anxious to see what the total will be," said Rogers, after last year’s event raised in excess of $143,000. "If we raise a dollar more than last year, we’ll be extremely happy." A benefit for the American Cancer Society, organizers are continuing to invite anyone who wants to get involved to do so -- right up to the day of the event.
With a familiar weekend schedule for returning participants, organizers continue to add and change elements to keep things fresh. The fundamentals remain: Participants will lap the track at Mount Anthony Union High School beginning Saturday evening. Following opening ceremonies, speakers, and music, the event begins with the lighting of the cauldron and initial laps for survivors, caregivers, and youth.
Rogers said 2012 would be the "year of the caregiver," and all caregivers -- including those who have lost their loved one -- are invited to the event and pre-relay survivors reception. Caregivers who have lost their person to cancer will receive pinwheels, Rogers said. "We want to keep them involved. ... They still were an important part of a person’s life, and we want to acknowledge that."
A new addition this year will be the Fight Back Ceremony, where "at 11 p.m., everyone will go to the center of the track, our DJ (John Wooddell) will play very appropriate fight back music, and we will dance," Rogers said, with participants wearing purple boxing gloves and the ceremony recorded for YouTube. Afterward, new and different theme laps will serve to keep things interesting after midnight.
The track will again be lined with luminaries lit for those touched by cancer. Rogers said there was a bigger push this year for the canned food drive benefiting six area food pantries, with the goal being a can of food weighing down every luminary. Collection boxes have been located around Bennington in the days leading to the event.
Relay participants will also be able to sponsor luminaries for pets affected by cancer. A special lap to commemorate pets is also planned, but participants are still asked to leave their dogs home. (Rogers said a pet-friendly Bark for Life relay event was tentatively being planned for 2013.)
With more than 5,000 annual events across the country, the ACS relays serve to generate major funds for both cancer research and local support programs. More than $4 billion has been raised since the first relay in 1985.
The biggest chunk of all proceeds goes toward cancer research, and Rogers said approximately $1 million in grants had been paid out between two regional hospitals: Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.
The remainder of the money stays within the region and benefits programming, locally like Road for Recovery, which provides rides to medical appointments; Man to Man, a prostate cancer support group; the wig bank; the Feel Better program; and the Hope Lodge in Burlington.
For more information, to sign up or make a donation go to: www.relayforlife.org/benningtonvt
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