NMMC urging teams to form for second Relay for Life

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

A relay that's not a race, theme camping, games and music under the stars and a daybreak closing ceremony are not the events in some offbeat Olympic parody.

They are a fun, lighthearted approach to solving one of the most serious threats to anyone's health - cancer.

Beginning this week, North Mississippi Medical Center is kicking off its second annual Relay for Life campaign, a fund-raising event for the American Cancer Society. Although the actual event won't take place until Sept. 27, the hospital wants groups around the area to begin thinking about putting their relay teams together.

"It's not a race," said Beth Frick, publicity chairman for the campaign and education and training coordinator for NMMC. "It's just symbolic, to keep someone going for 12 hours."

From 6 p.m. until 6 a.m., each team of 10 to 12 members must have a participant on the track that will be laid out at Ballard Park in Tupelo. Members can run the course or walk it and there are no rules about how long an individual team member must stay on the track.

"Last year one of the running clubs was training for a marathon and so they did their long runs that night," Frick said. "Others walked for 30 minutes and didn't even break a sweat."

Each team member must raise at least $100 prior to the event in order to participate. Last year, the 36 teams that participated raised $84,000, the largest amount of any Relay for Life event in the state. This year's goal is $100,000, Frick said. She is hoping to get 60 teams to participate.

All proceeds go to the American Cancer Society, although Frick said some of the funds do come back to the state for cancer research here.

Teams are also urged to pitch a tent on their assigned 30-foot by 30-foot space in the park and decorate it for the event. Last year the themes ranged from the tropics to redneck trailer trash.

Events are scheduled throughout the night with a health fair from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m., a karaoke competition, wildest pajama contest, best campsite theme contest, limbo and hokey-pokey dances, and a games tent for children.

"We're trying to turn it into a family-oriented event," Frick said. "Some of the best teams we had last year were neighborhood groups where one of the neighbors just got everybody together. We also had a lot of Sunday school classes participate."

Letters went out to area ministers this week asking churches to field teams and raise money.

While the event is intended to be fun for the participants, some portions are designed to point out the deadly seriousness of cancer. The first lap of the relay is reserved for cancer survivors and Frick said she hopes to recruit several hundred to lead off the event.

"They don't have to stay the whole night," she said. "If they would just come and take part in the first lap."

At 10 p.m., participants will remember both cancer survivors and victims with luminaries placed around the track and all other lights extinguished. Anyone may purchase for $10 a luminary with a name attached in honor of a cancer survivor or in memory of someone who lost their battle with the disease.

"Last year, what we found is that a lot of people walked out there and found their luminary and sat next to it," Frick said. "It was really touching."

In the morning, the event will end with a closing ceremony that organizers are keeping under wraps as a surprise.

"It'll be memorable," Frick promised.

For more information about organizing a team, call 365-7659 or 844-6915. Cancer survivors who would like to participate in any of the events or anyone wishing to sponsor a luminary should call 841-4077.

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