South Whidbey Relay For Life raises record amount for cancer research

Bristol Bloom and son Branson circled the track for six miles during Saturday’s Relay For Life. - Michaela Marx Wheatley / The Record
Bristol Bloom and son Branson circled the track for six miles during Saturday’s Relay For Life.
— image credit: Michaela Marx Wheatley / The Record

LANGLEY — Hundreds of pairs of sneakers added a few extra miles to their soles this weekend as South Enders walked for the cure during this year’s Relay For Life.

The weather held up for the 20 teams that walked for 18 hours between 5 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday at the South Whidbey High School track to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Bristol Bloom and her 16-month-old son Branson were among the last ones standing, circling the track Saturday morning.

“Branson and I did six miles and stayed out all night,” she said. “Oh my gosh, it was awesome.”

Bloom took the early morning shift for her team. She started walking at dawn.

“I like that shift. It’s when the sun comes out,” she said. “It was inspiring.”

She also enjoyed the “quietness.”

“It was only the real die-hards out there,” Bloom said.

“It was tiring, but pretty cool,” she added. “And of course the free coffee helped.”

Relay For Life kicked off Friday evening with a cancer survivors’ dinner that included clam chowder from Ivar’s and chicken chili from another local eatery.

From moms pushing baby strollers, to seniors, to gaggles of high schoolers, dozens of members from fundraising teams made their way around the track at South Whidbey High School under a warm evening sun, distracted only by occasional screams from the dunk tank at one end of the football field.

Many came prepared for a long night, toting sleeping bags or coolers filled with food.

Dance music boomed from the sound system set up near one end of the bleachers, interrupted only by the occasional plea for donations to help free the distinguished “jailbirds” who were locked inside a chain-link-fenced prison for the event’s “jail and bail” program. Prisoners included South Whidbey School District Superintendent Fred McCarthy, Dick Guise from the Kiwanis and sheriff’s deputy Laura Price.

The highlight of the night was the Luminary Ceremony. Luminaries lined the outer edge of the football field, many lovingly labeled with the name of a family member or friend who was afflicted with cancer.

The special event to honor those lost started at 10 p.m. Friday. Anyone who wanted to remember somebody who had succumbed to cancer or had successfully fought the disease could put up a white paper bag that they had decorated and lit a candle. And there were many.

In no time the track was illuminated in candlelight as the walkers continued to make their laps.

“We had more than 250 candles for the ceremony and they were all gone,” said Maria Reyes, one of the walkers. Organizers estimated that a total of about 300 walked during the luminary.

The event raised a record amount of cash, said Relay spokesman Peter Andersen. Donations amounted to $39,300 and counting,

And other milestones were reached as well.

Cancer survivor Joan Smith walked more than 150 laps, Andersen said.

“That’s inspiring,” he added. Smith, who also was this year’s survivor speaker, is a three-time cancer survivor.

Even though she walked more laps than most, this year wasn’t her personal best.

“Three years ago she ran the entire relay,” Andersen recalled.

This year marked the 12th anniversary for Relay For Life on South Whidbey. Participation was significantly increased, organizers said, a trend that’s reflected elsewhere in the country.

Nationwide, more than 2.5 million people participate in the Relay For Life each year.

Next year’s Relay is scheduled for June 19 and 20.

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