Fort Meade’s annual Relay For Life is promising to be twice as nice this year.
The community cancer fundraiser has always been a big event, but this year organizers are hoping it will have double the fun as the Fort Meade and Frostproof events are combined into one Friday and Saturday at Fort Meade Middle Senior High School.
The American Cancer Society, the national nonprofit organization responsible for the event, wants small towns in close proximity of each other to combine their efforts this year, which means cities such as Frostproof and Fort Meade will be co-hosting their events.
Likewise, Lake Wales and Bartow are combining this year’s event as well, in Bartow.
In past years, the separate events in Frostproof and Fort Meade have raised a total of almost $90,000.
What impact this new change will have on this year’s relay has yet to be determined, and only time will tell whether it will be for the best or not. This year’s theme is “Cancer is not a game.”
“I don’t know how successful it’s going to be overall,” said Denise Harrell, Fort Meade Relay For Life Co-Chairman. “We’ll have to wait it out and see how it all works out when everyone’s relays for this year are finished.”
Both cities had previously held their events separately, and both have fostered a sense of community in each by uniting their residents in the fight against cancer.
However, this solidarity may become lost by combining the relays, as many residents may be reluctant to accept this new change, and thus be reluctant to attend the relay, Harrell explained.
“When you have a sense of community in your own town, you seem to have more unity,” she explained. “When you are asked to move to another community and work with their events, then you sometimes lose that unity and you lose the momentum that your town has.”
The transition has been going on for months, as committee members from both cities have been forced to commute for their meetings, but it has been implemented as smoothly as possible, Harrell guaranteed.
The plan is for the two cities to alternate with their locations each year. This year, the relay will be hosted in Fort Meade, with the next year having it hosted in Frostproof.
Relay For Life is an annual fundraiser held by the American Cancer Society to raise funds and awareness for cancer.
Participating teams camp around a track overnight selling food, playing games, and engaging in other entertainment while their teammates take turns running or walking laps.
Each relay begins with the Survivors Lap, when cancer survivors proudly walk the first lap of the evening to celebrate their victory over cancer.
The highlight of the evening is the Luminaria Ceremony, when decorated lanterns are lit around the track and participants walk a lap of silence in remembrance of those who lost their lives to cancer.
The relay concludes with the Fight Back Ceremony, when participants make a pledge to do their part in combating cancer by raising awareness or making simple lifestyle choices.
This year’s relay will be held at Fort Meade Middle Senior High School at 700 Edgewood Dr. The relay starts at 5 p.m. on April 5 and concludes the next day at 7 a.m.. It is free an open to the public, There will be entertainment, food for sales, raffles and games.
Festivities will actually start at 4 p.m. with a special “survivor’s reception” which will serve refreshments and honor those who have beaten cancer. Opening ceremonies are scheduled at 6 p.m. and the “Ceremony of Hope” luminaria lighting event is scheduled for 8:45 p.m.
Each candle represents a person with a name and story to tell
The event has fostered solidarity among residents whose loved ones have lost, won, or are still fighting the battle against cancer.
“We are small towns, so it helps when the community comes out for us,” Harrell said. “It just shows our strength of our community involvement with cancer survivors and it helps them to feel good to honor them.”
After losing her brother and sister-in-law to cancer, Harrell was inspired to take up the fight 16 years ago by participating in the Fort Meade relay. She had participated in the event ever since, usually as chairman.
“It has given me incentive to want to try to find a cure for this disease and be a part of this organization,” she said.
The Fort Meade relay has always experienced phenomenal community support with massive turnouts and participation, with usually 20 to 25 teams participating each year.
With the exception of last year, which missed its goal by a few thousand dollars, the city has always met its financial goals, and expects to do the same with this year’s goal of $81,000.
This year will see the relay return to the Fort Meade Middle Senior High School football field track, where it was held for many years. However, for the past two years, the relay had to be held elsewhere, as the high school had to charge the relay teams to use the track.
The past two years experienced fair participation, attracting many people at the beginning of the event before the crowds eventually waned in time, Harrell explained.
This year participants are looking forward to having their annual event return once more to the football field, and with other changes aside, are expecting a large turnout because of it.
“We are looking forward to having that venue again, and just looking forward to the community coming out and supporting us like they always do, and just having a good evening of the whole event,” Harrell said.
Currently 22 teams and 134 participants have enrolled for the event and have raised more than $22,000.
For more information, visit relayforlife.org and find the Fort Meade/Frostproof page.