Whole new Relay, same old fight

— Created September 8, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Relay for Life of North Puget Sound has a completely new look and feel this year, but its mission is the same as it has always been, to raise money to support cancer research. The Relay takes place Friday at the Blue Fox Drive-in in Oak Harbor. Gates open at 4 p.m. and anyone interested is welcome to attend. The evening includes a triple feature as well as numerous activities, fun and games. There is no charge to attend the event, although donations will be happily accepted.

The pandemic forced the cancellation of Relay for Life in 2020, so even though the event is happening a few months later than normal and on a shorter timeline, organizers were not going to be deterred this year.

“We were more determined than ever to do Relay,” said Leandra Reuble, event chair. “Nothing sparks a fire more than having to cancel something. There was a big concern among us we had let some folks down when we had to cancel last year. It’s not just about raising money, either. It’s about getting together as a community and being there to support each other.”

“I’m excited it’s going to be different,” said longtime Relay organizer Karla Sharkey, this year’s sponsorship chair. “After 27 years of doing Relay, this is going to be different. That excites me. We’ve been doing the same thing for a long time, so I think different is good. You plan and you hope and you go from there.”

Recognizing and honoring cancer survivors and those fighting the disease will also look a little different this year. There will not be any organized walking, so there is no “survivors’ lap.” Instead, organizers have come up with a different way to honor them.

“This year we’re keeping things relatively simple because there are so many unknowns,” said Reuble. “We didn’t want to have to cancel at the last minute or put survivors in jeopardy so this year there is no walking. Instead, when people come in, they will be greeted, given an event schedule and asked if there is a survivor in the vehicle. If so, they will get a gold star on the windshield and later on, volunteers will make the rounds and pass out gift bags to the survivors.”

The first film of the evening, “Captain Marvel,” will be shown around dusk, at approximately 8:30 p.m. The movie sets up the theme of this year’s Relay, according to Reuble.

“The theme this year is masked avengers,” she described. “The idea is to give people a way to dress up, to celebrate, to be fighters. We’re all tired of things we can’t control.”

The evening’s second feature, “Bucket List,” will begin at about 11 p.m. and the third feature, “Creed,” will start at about 1 a.m.

The Relay’s traditional luminaria ceremony is going to happen and will be held on the go kart track after the first feature, at about 10:30 p.m.

“They do a slide show to music with photos of people we’ve lost or who have fought cancer. This year it will be shown on the big screen between the first and second movies,” said Sharkey, who is still mourning the recent loss of a good friend to cancer. “I think how cool that would be to see it on the big screen. I’ll probably cry when I see my friend’s picture.”

Sharkey said one of the goals as they were planning for this event was to give people enough of the familiar elements, along with the new, to keep the spirit of Relay for Life alive.

“The bottom line is, for me, to raise money, honor the survivors who are there and have the luminaria ceremony,” she said. “The reason we do this is because we believe in the mission and we’re all being touched by cancer. We need to keep it alive.”

From the time the gates open at 4 p.m. organizers have plenty of activities planned. There will be a silent auction at the main stage from 4 to 8 p.m., luminaria sales will be going on near the go kart track until 9:30 p.m. The opening ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. There’s a frozen T-shirt competition at 7:30 p.m. and the first ever Relay for Life Go Kart Challenge will take place at 8 p.m. There is a $20 fee to enter the challenge and the winner will receive a trophy and a cash prize.

Because Relay is being held at Blue Fox, pets are allowed this year. So, organizers will have Bark for Life games at the main stage for all well-behaved pets (and their owners) from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. One new activity will also have folks wandering around in search of things like an out-of-state license plate or an expired license tab, for example.

“We are having a scavenger hunt,” Reuble said. “It’s all about finding people doing various things or finding things on cars, like someone eating curly fries or an expired license plate. That’s worth 30 points!

“Blue Fox is a much more enclosed environment, a much more relaxed environment,” she continued. “It’s more communal in the way it’s set up. Hopefully people will get out of their cars and walk around, play games and visit. Teams have been invited to set up fundraisers, so I’m curious to see what they are going to do.”

Organizers said those attending must follow all COVID health guidelines as outlined by Blue Fox, such as masking in indoor spaces.

“Generally at a relay event, you see people in masks anyway because so many are in fragile heath,” Reuble explained. “If someone is in chemo, it’s one of the best ways to keep them safe, so we always wear masks around them anyway. And the drive-in creates social distance naturally because people are in their own cars and when they’re not, they’re in open air. It will be as safe an event as we can make it. It should be a fun night and a good way to contribute back.”

As well as things have come together for the event this year, Sharkey said there have been some understandable frustrations as well. Donations are down across the board. The fundraising goal for this year is $45,000, less than half the usual goal. As of late last week, teams and organizers had raised just over $26,000.

“We can raise money through the end of the year, so that’s good,” she said. “We are doing fundraisers – we’ve got a silent auction, we’re trying different things. What happens is what happens and we’ll just love it for what it is. We’re hoping everybody likes the movies and that we’re reaching out and maybe touching people who have no idea what Relay is all about.”

“It’s free admission,” encouraged Reuble. “The concessions, arcade and go karts will all be open and Blue Fox will be donating a percentage of those sales back to Relay. So, the more people who come and spend money, the more the event makes.”

Find more information about Relay for Life of North Puget Sound on Facebook at facebook.com/whidbeyrelay/?ref=page_internal. Or visit the American Cancer Society’s website at cancer.org.

“Our goal is to fill the Blue Fox Drive-in on Friday, not just to raise money for cancer research, but to provide the community with an opportunity to get together for a safe way to have fun and honor those who have fought cancer,” said Reuble.

“I’m tired of losing friends because of cancer,” Sharkey said. “I would encourage people to come, or donate, because cancer sucks.”