Relay for Life, reimagined
— Created May 5, 2021 by Alec Brown
By Alec Brown
Relay for Life may have been cancelled once again this year, but there are several events taking its place, including walks, several meetings and a movie night at the Blue Fox Drive-In. Relay for Life is an annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society in which teams of participants raise money for research and services while honoring people at every step in their fight against cancer.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can get the community re-engaged and help raise money to fight cancer,” said Mary Brock, digital coordinator for the North Puget Sound Relays. “And normally at the Relays, the teams try to walk as much as they can, but they can’t do that. So I came up with five different walks!”
While the first walk was this past Saturday at Ebey’s Landing Bluff Trail in Coupeville, there are several more scheduled. The next four will take place May 22 at Meerkerk Gardens in Greenbank; June 19 at Little Cranberry Lake in Anacortes; July 17 at Fort Casey State Park in Coupeville; and Aug. 14 at Deception Pass State Park. Each walk starts at 11 a.m. and participants can log miles to earn lap beads. Participants must also follow COVID health guidelines to keep everyone safe.
The main event this year will be Sept. 10 at the Blue Fox Drive-In. The evening will include showings of three family-friendly movies and the traditional luminaria ceremony honoring those who have lost their battle with cancer will take place between the first and second movies. There will be a minimum donation required to enter the event, though the amount has not been decided as yet. Similarly, the movies have not yet been chosen—but the 2007 comedy “The Bucket List” is in consideration.
“We’re going to have an opening ceremony at 6 p.m., we’re going to have a DJ, we’re going to honor our survivors; between the movies we’ll have a luminaria ceremony—it’ll be different,” said long-time event organizer and sponsorship chair Karla Sharkey. “It won’t be what you and I think of as a relay; if people want to walk, they can walk, but we’re just not going to have that type of an event this year.”
It has been a challenge to reimagine such an iconic fundraiser.
“We’re trying to think outside the box,” said Sharkey. “Our big fundraising effort is going to be at the Blue Fox, but we’re encouraging people to still go out and you can go online, join the Relay for Life North Puget Sound…it’s that simple.”
And for those with pets, the Sept. 10 event will also include Bark for Life.
“Since pets are allowed to go there, we’re going to have a small, what we call Bark for Life,” said Brock. “Bark for Life is awesome. We have a passion for it because we have a dog that died of cancer…we have a whole bunch of different things, we have little bandanas they can put around their collar and things like that.”
Last but not least, the Relay for Life committee will be holding a kick-off Zoom meeting open to anyone who wants to attend.
“Please join us for 2021 Kick Off for Relay For Life of North Puget Sound Wednesday, May 12, from 7 to about 8 p.m. for information, this year’s event theme, a couple of nice prizes and an opportunity to ask questions,” stated 2021 Organizing Committee member Leandra Reuble.
The Zoom Meeting ID can be found on the Relay for Life of North Puget Sound’s Facebook page. Future meetings might be held at the Elk’s Lodge in Oak Harbor depending on how COVID guidelines look in the summer.
As the American Cancer Society’s biggest source of annual fundraising, Relay’s now two-year cancellation is a significant blow to research and ACS’s ability to service those who need help.
“The American Cancer Society, last year, for 2020, really only got maybe a quarter of the fundraising they’re used to worldwide,” Brock stated. “So Western Washington went from having a dozen or more relays West of the mountains to only four. We were one of the four. Us and Tacoma are the only ones that truly survived on their own because we are good relays.”
“The impact is really great because if we don’t have that money to give to research, for example, my coworker, who is currently fighting, may not get his life-saving treatment,” Sharkey added. “So there’s lots of reasons why we need to continue to fundraise.”
Lack of funding is part of the reason, in addition to COVID guidelines, the event was canceled this year—the organization simply can’t afford to hold such a big event.
“Basically, they have kept four events in the greater Seattle area, one of them being the Whidbey Island relay,” Sharkey stated. “But what that means is that we really don’t have a budget…we can’t do anything in June with COVID the way it currently is. You can’t have 200 to 300 people at an event, even if it is outdoors, right? So we had to think outside our box, and somebody had a great idea and we went to the Blue Fox Drive-In, and they offered us their venue. So on Sept. 10, we are going to have a Relay for Life fundraising event. At that time, we’re still going to honor survivors, and we’re going to have a luminary ceremony, we’re going to play movies, be together, we’re going to have teams and still try to raise money, but it’s a different event.”
The powerful sense of community that in the past has brought so many people together will be missed.
“There’s a lot of people I see once a year and it’s at Relay,” said Sharkey. “I think people are really going to miss the community. Normally, you’d get a team, you’d raise money, you’d spend the night there, you’d party, you’d have music, nobody sleeps, you eat junk food, you know, that kind of thing. But more importantly, what we do is honor cancer survivors…and we pamper the survivors, thank them, and make them feel loved. Because we want more survivors, right?
“And then at dusk we do a luminary ceremony,” she continued. “And a luminary ceremony is white bags in memory and celebration or honor of people who have passed away or are in the fight. And those bags are decorated with candles put in them. It’s a somber thing; you walk the track and they stay lit for most of the night. So as you’re walking…you see people you love and people you know, you see their bags. So that’s a very emotional time.”
Although the walks and Blue Fox fundraisers will help, the organization still encourages people to join Relay for Life North Puget Sound on Facebook and donate online.
“Even in these times, cancer has not gone away,” Sharkey stated. “And we still need to continue to raise money for research and services. Three weeks ago I had a good friend pass away. He fought, but the experimental treatment didn’t work. It reminds me that I’m stuck in my house, I’m working from home, I can’t do a lot right now, but there’s still people getting the cancer diagnosis—still fighting.
“This is the celebration of all the hard work we’ve done all year,” she concluded. “At the event, more importantly, we’re looking at honoring, celebrating, and remembering those in all walks of their cancer journey.”
To learn more, visit the Facebook page at facebook.com/whidbeyrelay/. To learn more about Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society, or to donate, go to cancer.org.