Local cancer survivors take the first lap around the MAU track on Saturday evening at the Relay for Life of Bennington.
Local cancer survivors take the first lap around the MAU track on Saturday evening at the Relay for Life of Bennington. (Tom Momberg / Bennington Banner)

Editor's Note: The original article attributed a direct quote to Gail Johnson, speaking in memory of Gail Harwood. This was in fact a direct quote from Dr. Charlene Ives, although Johnson did speak of her memory of Harwood at the event.

BENNINGTON -- Relay for Life of Bennington raised over $97,000 for cancer research through the American Cancer Society leading up to and during the overnight relay on the Mount Anthony Union High School track Saturday into Sunday.

After two last minute team sign ups, the Relay for Life committee registered 47 teams, each of which had at least one team member walking the track at a time during a 12-hour period starting with the 6 p.m. opening ceremonies. A combined total of 477 individual relay participants signed up for the event, but members of the committee estimated that far more than that participated.

The largest fundraising sponsor for the event this year was the Pharmacy, 205 North St, with a $2,500 contribution. The largest fundraising individual was Donna Yost. The committee estimated that about $75,000 of the $100,000 goal had been reached before the event started, and another $20,000 was raised at the Relay itself, bring the total to over $98,000. However, several checks have yet to clear, which they say will push them comfortably over their goal.

The relay was kicked off by committee member Jena Case.


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She took time to recognize Pownal Elementary School for its participation in ACS's program Relay Recess, raising $500 to Relay for Life of Bennington.

Afterwards, Case recognized Bennington native and cancer survivor Bobby Gibbs, who shared his story with over 1,400 onlookers. After losing his leg to osteosarcoma, Gibbs found a path to recovery.

"Around this time, I heard the motto: Pain is temporary but victory is forever," Gibbs said. "We choose how the diagnosis will affect us. We can become resentful, angry at the world and we can allow it to beat us and be lost. Or, we can choose to look cancer in the face and see how deep we are willing to go, how strong we can be It can teach you to change something in your life."

After Gibbs shared his story, Dr. Charlene Ives of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, spoke in memory of Gail Harwood, who died in January after losing her battle with cancer.

"Cancer touches us all: We all know someone or are someone who has struggled with it," Ives said. "This is for people like Gail Harwood, who is honored tonight. Like many of you, she touched my heart and I have many memories of her: How strong she was and what she loved, her family and friends, her great sense of humor and her humility."

Cancer survivors wore purple shirts to the event. After the opening ceremonies, the cancer survivors started the relay with the first lap, led by an honor guard comprised of local law enforcement. The second lap was taken by the cancer survivors and their caregivers.

Many of the teams staked tents into the grass to trade off walking by team members, sleeping in shifts. "Cancer doesn't sleep, so why should we stop walking," asked team development committee chair Laurie Thompson astritorically.

During the relay, there was a full list of activities, most significantly: The luminaria ceremony at dusk. Small white paper bags filled with candles were marked as tribute by friends and loved ones to those battling cancer or those who lost their lives to cancer. The laps taken around the track at that time were made in silence to honor those individuals.

Thompson has participated in Relay for Life for 11 years. She lost her mother to breast cancer 10 years ago. As the produce manager at Hannaford, 141 Hannaford Square, she spent the last three years as team captain for the Hannaford team before before becoming a committee chair this year.

Thompson said she is happy to be doing something more to contribute to the relay event and to ACS. "I am 100 percent for it. They were there when my mom was sick. They do so much in the community: Like if patients need rides to and from their appointments."

For more about Relay for Life, or for running fundraising totals, visit http://www.relayforlife.org/ index.

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB