Commercial-News | Scott Hassinger - Participants start down the track with the Relay for Life Survivors Lap which honored those that have survived cancer, or are in remission.Photo provided - Luminary candles were lit underneath decorative colored bags around the track Saturday evening at dusk to remember those whose lives have been touched with someone who had cancer or loved ones lost to the disease. A special lap took place allowing participants to reflect on their experience with the disease.Commercial-News | Scott Hassinger - Team members from the team ‘In This Family We Fight Together’ pose for a group photo.Commercial-News | Scott Hassinger - Michelle Ackerman, right, served as the Cancer Survivor guest speaker before Saturday’s Cancer Survivor lap during Relay For Life at Centreville High School. Ackerman, who is accompanied in this photo by her cancer patient Izy Cassel, from Three Rivers, related her personal experience with cancer during the event.

Relay for Life makes triumphant return to track

CENTREVILLE — Relay for Life, St. Joseph County’s biggest fundraiser to fight cancer, returned to the track at Centreville High School on Saturday following a two-year absence due to COVID.

Relay for Life is a community-based walk event that comes together to honor and remember loved ones that are fighting cancer or that lost their battle with the disease.

Following opening ceremonies and comments from event organizers, the nearly seven-hour event running from 4 p.m. until 10:45 p.m. kicked off with the opening lap by participating teams.

Dave McClain, a local disc jockey, kept participating teams, volunteers and survivors entertained with a assortment of different kinds of music while providing frequent updates during the event on the festivities.

Several special ceremonies took place throughout the event, including the survivor and caregiver ceremony and lap followed by a dinner.

Other events included a trick or treat lap; a live performance by Mark Higgins; a sponsor lap; bubbles lap; colors of cancer lap; Dance Party Lap; Glow Lap; the traditional luminary ceremony and lap followed by a closing ceremony.

Caralee Waswick, Senior Development Manager for the American Cancer Society in Southwest Michigan, spoke about the event.

“It’s amazing to be back in person. It’s an event that is needed in the community with the hope that it provides. We’re just so happy to be back in person,” Waswick said.

The event pushed the total amount raised for fighting cancer in St. Joseph County to well over $30,000 with the projected goal for 2022 to be $40,000.

The event featured 10 participating teams on site and another four teams that stopped in during the event to walk and complete a few laps.

Tents were set up inside the infield beside the track during the event. Each tent represents a participating team.

“People walk the track to just kind of celebrate survivors and the fight against cancer and to remember loved ones lost. We have bounce houses here for kids of participants, live entertainment, a survivor lap, dinner and ceremony and a special luminary ceremony,” Waswick said.

The survivor ceremony and lap commenced around 6 p.m. followed by a special dinner. Participants in that event received a purple shirt and anyone in that color of shirt represents someone that has been told at one time or another in their life that they have cancer.

Kristin McEnroe, chairman of the survivorship for the event, stated it was nice to have the event back.

“This year we really focused on the survivors with a dinner catered by Yoder’s in memory of my grandfather Raymond Bingaman. All of the survivors here today get a T-Shirt, a survivor medal and acknowledgement that we’re here to support them,” said McEnroe, who fought skin cancer and was also a member of the Kadant Johnson team.

Guest speaker and cancer survivor Michelle Ackerman, a pediatric nurse at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo, related her own personal battle with breast cancer and served as a caregiver for her own brother who lost his battle with the disease.

Ackerman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021 after a routine mammogram.

“By taking care of my brother, God taught me how to fight cancer. He was showing me that I was going to be the best cancer nurse there is because I now had cancer and was going to endure everything that the kids I took care of had to. It is hard,” Ackerman said.

“If there’s one thing I’d like to tell you today is to reach out to those with cancer. Don’t ask them what you can do because they’ll tell you that they don’t need anything. Just take them a meal or tell them you are coming the next day to do their laundry. We all need help and support. People that have been diagnosed or lost someone, you can imagine what its like until you go through it yourself. Hopefully someday we’ll have a cure for this awful disease.”

The luminary ceremony and lap took place at dusk near the end of the event.

“The luminary ceremony feature bags that are decorated purple and white in color and it gives people to celebrate and honor someone that is cancer free or remember loved ones lost. The objective is just to take time and reflect,” said Waswick, who lost her own mother to cancer a couple years ago.

Sara Daniels and Tammy Babcock, members of the team “In This Family We Fight Together,” had a special interest in the event themselves. Both women have sisters who are currently battling cancer.

Waswick was pleased with the turnover for the event and expects next year’s relay for life to be much better.

“In general, I believe the community has done a phenomenal job of organizing this event. We expect this event to be much bigger next year,” Waswick said.

Scott Hassinger can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 25 or sports@threeriversnews.com.

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