I was recently asked by a family friend, “What, exactly, is Relay For Life?”
Now, this may seem like an incredibly simple question to answer, especially since I’ve been involved with Relay, in various capacities, for over seven years.
But the kicker is, I don’t have a good answer, and I don’t think I ever will. Not because I don’t know what Relay For Life is, but because it’s so much more than its definition. However, I’m going to try to give you an answer to that question now…
In the simplest of terms, Relay For Life is a year-long fundraising effort in which all proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society. This effort culminates in a day-long event where groups of people and individuals come together to celebrate survivors and remember those who they have lost.
Through my seven-plus years of being involved in a Relay event — as a participant, as a team captain, as an event co-chair, and this year, as a member of the Clinton County Event Leadership Team — I’ve learned that while Relay at its core is a fundraising endeavor, its strength comes from the community it builds, not the dollars it brings in.
This is why, in my opinion, Relay is unlike any other fundraising event.
Individuals walk the track and tell stories about loved ones. They sit at the luminaria table together, decorating their luminaria bags with the names of friends or family members, sharing memories with one another. They participate in various games and activities.
And along the way, something magical happens. A community forms as individuals realize no single person is alone in their grief, in their battle, or in their celebration of life — everyone is in this together.
Dusk marks the beginning of my favorite part of any Relay event, the Luminaria Ceremony.
Luminaria bags (bags that have been purchased in honor of, in support of, and in memory of loved ones) are placed around the track and participants are handed a glow stick as they gather silently around the stage. A speaker gives a testimony about their experience with cancer, and following their speech, participants are asked to break their glow stick when they hear their reason to Relay.
The harsh, snapping sound of the glow sticks breaking to shine their light, is at first jolting and morose, and then the area begins to fill with a soft, yellow light, and participants take to the track for a silent lap, allowing light to fill up the darkness.
It’s an intensely sad, yet an immensely hopeful and beautiful moment.
The juxtaposition found in that moment is part of what makes Relay so special. In almost every other instance of life, grief and hope clash; they aren’t able to exist in the same space — yet, in those 15 minutes, somehow, they can.
There’s no way I can qualify, in any way to do justice to the moment, the magic that penetrates it. Instead, I implore you to join us on June 24 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at JW Denver Memorial Park for the Relay For Life event — to feel the magic for yourself.
For more information on our event, please visit relayforlife.org/clintoncounty or like our Facebook Page: Relay For Life of Clinton County Ohio.
Samantha Williams is Relay For Life of Clinton County Marketing and Activities Chair.