Up to last weekend, Culver’s “little community that could” Relay for Life events had raised $349,000. After last Friday and Saturday’s Relay, according to organizers, make that $472,000.
The most recent Culver Relay took in $123,000, though organizers stress donors may continue to give up to August, which will likely raise the total. It’s obvious the move indoors from the traditional site of the event at the Culver Academies track and football field to its Muli-Purpose Building Friday night to avoid the rainy, cold weather didn’t deter fundraising efforts or participation. And, as in years past, this year’s event was no less a community-wide endeavor which included teams representing local entities ranging from Culver’s fire department to Lions Club, to various facets of the Culver Community Schools. Students at Culver Comm. Middle School, for example, held “penny wars” during the school day Friday to cap off a multi-week campaign towards Relay, while Culver Elementary School held a “hat day” in which students “paid” to wear the hat of their choice to school, all towards Relay, which of course raises funds to fight cancer via the American Cancer Society.
NFL Indianapolis Colts football star Adam Vinatieri was back for his second year in a row, hob-knobbing with participants of all ages and cheerfully posing for photos and signing autographs.
More quietly represented were deceased members of all of Culver’s communities -- Academies, town, lake, and beyond -- by hand-decorated luminary bags placed around the track and lit with glow sticks during the solemn, silent luminaria ceremony, during which the building’s lights are turned off and the soft glow of the bags -- and walkers’ sticks -- illumines the area.
Kicking off that ceremony was a speech by Academies student Riley Scott, herself a thyroid cancer survivor. Describing her diagnosis with the disease in 6th grade, Scott -- one of the principle organizers of this year’s Relay -- noted her grandmother had just died of breast cancer at the time, and she found herself asking repeatedly, “Why me?”
“Every survivor always mentions how their fight was not fought alone,” said Scott, discussing her parents’ and friends’ support. “As overused as this statement is, it is so true...I believe with all my heart the support system around you literally has the power to fight off the cancer with you and make the biggest difference along the way.”
Though people often respond to the news of cancer diagnosis with expressions of sorrow, Scott emphasized, “I can frankly say I am not sorry for what happened to me. Cancer decided to pay me a visit. Cancer took away the last years of my childhood. Cancer forced me to grow up and destroyed my naïve outlook on the world.
“I realized the cliché phrase from ‘Forrest Gump’ actually holds true,” she concluded. “My box of chocolates is far from Ghirardelli and life is always unpredictable and often unfair; you just have to try and make the best of it.”
As in the past, a host of musical performances and activities adorned the evening, including the ever-popular “Mr. Relay” contest, during which male participants dress in women’s attire and compete to raise funds. In third place with $56 was Mark Siatta; second place was taken by Guanlin Chen, who raised $141; and the grand winner was Juwan Brescacin $146.25 (all three were Academies students).
Earlier, during the evening’s Fight Back Ceremony, another cancer survivor, Natalie Hogan of Plymouth, described her journey from New York to the slower-paced Hoosier state whose more relaxed culture she thought she’d never get used to -- until August, 2009, when cancer forced her hand.
The wife of Academies staff member Mike Hogan and parent of two Academies students, Hogan described losing her father to cancer even in the midst of her own battle.
“My father had said many times throughout his battle that he alone did not have cancer, that his family did,” she noted.
Determining to fight her illness and survive, Hogan said she would “cherish every moment as a gift.
“We take so much for granted in our daily lives. In my hurry to live life to the fullest, I was missing out on the important things that really mattered: the beauty of a sunrise, the tune of a bird singing, the smile of a stranger. I had a family that loved me, friends that truly cared about our family, and did everything they could to support us through this time.”
She encouraged others to reach out to those with cancer rather than holding back, adding she planned to go home and join in the time-honored small-town tradition of sitting on her porch swing “with a glass of tea, and relax(ing) by doing nothing. Maybe just watch(ing) the cars go by.”
Earlier in the week, the Relay cause was bolstered by a $2,500 check on behalf of the Kelly Cares Foundation and its founders Brian and Paqui Kelly. Paqui Kelly is a two-time cancer survivor and the wife of the University of Notre Dame football coach. They created the non-profit foundation to support initiatives and programs aligned with their goals and values of the Kelly family in health, education, and community.
In her remarks to students, Paqui Kelly stressed that she didn’t beat cancer by herself. It was a combination of family, friends, co-workers, community, and healthcare professionals. Teamwork and determination is what finishes the race, she said, whether it’s earning a diploma or walking all night for Relay For Life.
“Be aware of what small part you can do make a difference. Everything doesn’t have to be on a grand scale all the time,” she said.
Thanks to the staff of Culver Academies Vedette for assistance with this information. Their Relay blog may be read online at thevedette.wordpress.com.