By Nastacia Voisin • Of the News-Register • 

Relay for Life offers hope, unites community

Nastacia Voisin / News-RegisterCathy Garcia escorts her father, Ron Chapman, toward the finish line during the survivors  lap that kicked off the McMinnville Relay for Life.
Nastacia Voisin / News-Register
Cathy Garcia escorts her father, Ron Chapman, toward the finish line during the survivors' lap that kicked off the McMinnville Relay for Life.
Nastacia Voisin/News-Register
Marc Reynold takes another sledgehammer swing at a car with “cancer” spray painted on it.
Nastacia Voisin/News-Register
Marc Reynold takes another sledgehammer swing at a car with “cancer” spray painted on it.
Ossie Bladine/News-RegisterDuring the luminaria tribute, hundreds of paper bags around the track were lit with colored glowsticks, each with a message from a friend or family member to someone who battled cancer. This bag was created by 15-year-old Kendra Acker in honor of her grandmother, Lenita Lytsell.
Ossie Bladine/News-Register
During the luminaria tribute, hundreds of paper bags around the track were lit with colored glowsticks, each with a message from a friend or family member to someone who battled cancer. This bag was created by 15-year-old Kendra Acker in honor of her grandmother, Lenita Lytsell.

From her team’s table, Kristen Wells pointed across the track to where cancer survivors in dark purple T-shirts gathered for a special dinner.

“When you look over and see all those purple shirts,” she said, “that gives you hope. That’s what this is all about.”

The spirit of hope burned brightly Friday and Saturday for many participants of McMinnville’s annual Relay for Life, the cancer research fundraiser celebrating an unflagging fight against the disease. The event attracted an energetic crowd to Patton Middle School, as 32 teams lined the track with colorful displays and tents.

Survivors, caretakers, friends and supporters gathered Friday evening to exchange hugs, share stories and prepare for the 18-hour celebration ahead.

According to co-chair Jami Fuller, more than $40,000 had been pledged. While well shy of this year’s ambitious $100,000 goal, she said it showed the enthusiasm of several new teams still learning how to raise funds.

“Even if funds are down, spirits are up,” she said. “We fundraise all year, and it’s hard work.

“But then you come here and understand what you’ve been working toward. It makes it all worth it.”

Throughout the relay, teams continued to raise money, as members took turns walking laps with their team’s baton. People often walked in pairs or joined other groups, encouraging one other to finish one more round of the track as high-energy music thrummed from speakers stationed in the center field.

Scheduled activities, from a zumba session to a lip sync contest, kept the evening rolling. At team booths decorated to this year’s “Rock McMinnville Relay,” competitions, raffles and item sales raised final donations.

At Yamhill Valley Dermatology’s tent, team captain Alisah Sporer oversaw a 50/50 raffle, face painting and distribution of an educational skin cancer pamphlet. She helped her team decorate the tent with gold streamers, peace signs and records, the latter strung to the tent supports.

“We deal with skin cancer all the time,” she said. “But it’s a whole other thing to meet the people here. It’s really emotional.”

For many participants, the event had a personal significance.

Marc Reynold chipped in $50 for the privilege of taking that number of sledgehammer swings at a car with “cancer” scrawled multiple times over its dark blue body. His wife, Lindsay, had battled a rare form of cancer since childhood, and would experience its lingering effects her whole life.

The car was donated by Gale’s Towing and Recovery, and it’s destruction was part of team Pioneer Patherfinder’s fundraising efforts.

Other teams sold hair ties, bead necklaces, temporary tattoos, painted rocks and even pink feather boas. Some displayed posters with photos and printed names of friends or family members who’d lost the fight, reminding people of the relay’s purpose.

One wide white tent sheltered rows of tables for a dinner of lasagna, green beans, bread and salad for survivors and caretakers. Nearby, an array of themed gift baskets was featured in a silent auction tent. One Christmas-themed basket even included a fake miniature evergreen.

Alongside the track, Kristen Wells, team captain for the Brookdale Stars, encouraged participants to donate in exchange for painted rocks. Her team’s translation of the relay’s “rock” theme reflected their attitude toward cancer — “Strong, sturdy, steadfast.”

“We’re here to show support for those who are battling,” she said, “to show that there are people out there that care, even if they haven’t lost someone. We understand what their fight means.”

Wells stood with other participants as survivors began the celebratory first lap. Most walked on their own, while some used canes or the support of a friend.

Relay participants stood beside the track, cheering them on.

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