Relay for Life – a night to fight cancer
June 26. 2012 9:57AM
Fifteen teams turned out for the first-ever Brandon Valley-Garretson Relay for Life. Teammates walked the high school track for 12 hours, from Friday evening until Saturday morning, to honor those battling cancer, and those who fell to the disease. The event is a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
Becky Frerichs of Sioux Falls walked to celebrate her own recovery. She is a one-year bladder cancer survivor. She walked with “a good bunch of girls,” 11 teammates who called themselves Team Northrup. “Everyone on the team has experienced cancer in their family,” Frerichs said.
The theme of the Relay was Birthday Party, as survivors celebrated the years they have beat cancer. At least one member of each team was on the track during the 12 hours.
Friends Ralynn Whitelock and Kelly Drake walked together. Whitelock is a four-year survivor of Stage 0 breast cancer. Doctors caught her cancer early. “Get a mammogram,” she advised. Whitelock’s husband, John, has lymphoma and is in remission.
Drake’s son, Alex Bindert, died six years ago of brain cancer. She walked in the Relay to remember him.
“I don’t know how you go through life without knowing somebody,” Whitelock said.
Many walkers got pledges from friends and relatives. Jacob Hegland was one of those. His dad pledged $8 per mile, and Hegland planned to run a marathon. By 2 a.m., he had run 24.2 miles.
Hegland and other Brandon Valley High School cross country athletes had a team called Carpe Diem. “We’re doing it for the cause,” Adam Presler said. He and teammates Kaija Nitz, Hegland and Shelby Rahn said they would “definitely” do the Relay again.
During the 12-hour Relay, Brenda Feltman and other organizers planned activities for the walkers and runners. Yvette VanDerBrink and Luella Jellema, both cancer survivors, talked to the crowd about their experiences. VanDerBrink said family, faith and talking to her dog a lot kept her going while she was undergoing treatments. She found talking to her dog especially comforting. “My dog knows a lot of secrets,” she said. She encouraged anyone with cancer to fight. “Keep going. Keep positive. Pray a lot,” she said.
During the night, John Small of Sunny Radio announced activities, including a tae kwon do demonstration from Hoover’s Martial Arts, a Zumba workout by Lynx Martial Arts & Fitness, contests, a luminaria lighting ceremony, food, and other activities.
Team BV Tennis was another team of high school students and recent graduates. “It’s a great cause,” Hayley Naasz said. “We wanted to do something for others.” She and her teammates wanted to dress alike, so they all decorated their shirts with bold drawings of colorful fruit. They also found glow-in-the-dark balloons to decorate their resting area.
Isaac Anderson of Garretson wasn’t on a team but came to the event with his wife, Susan, and their toddler, Lilly, to cheer on the participants. Anderson’s mother died five years ago from cancer and he is on the Sioux Falls Relay for Life Committee.
“We want to put a stop to cancer so you don’t have to be without a mom or a grandma,” he said. While helping with past Sioux Falls Relays, he has heard many stories of cancer – some happy stories, and others sad. But while the Relay may remind people of loved ones they have lost to cancer, the event can be inspiring.
“Instead of mourning their loss, you celebrate their life,” he said.
Participants also honored those struck with cancer by decorating luminarias. These paper bags lit from the inside with candles circled the track. “Pam, take care. Get better. Love, Kenny,” said one. Another read “In memory of Governor Janklow.” Photos of loved ones were attached to many of the bags.
While the event is to raise money for cancer research, it also raises awareness, Feltman said. Toward morning, there was a Fight Back ceremony to encourage people to get screenings, wear sunscreen and do other preventions to try to avoid getting cancer or to detect it early.
Linda Bullis walked her first Relay for Life in 1985. She calls herself a “professional Relayer.” Her daughter-in-law is a stage 3 uterine cancer survivor. Bullis’s daughter, Amy, often walks with her. “I work in oncology,” Amy said. “It’s my life.”
And because of them and other Relayers, perhaps more people will live longer lives.