Cancer survivors celebrated during the Tracy Relay for Life
by Glenn Moore
May 21, 2014 | 5559 views | 0 0 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tracy Relay For Life
Cancer survivors and caregivers take the ceremonial first lap around the course to open the 14th annual Relay For Life on Saturday at West Valley Mall. Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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Hundreds of people pounded the pavement, walking for a cure to cancer, at the 14th annual Relay For Life on Saturday at the West Valley Mall parking lot.

The 24-hour walkathon, benefiting the American Cancer Society, drew 80 teams with 752 participants and was held at the mall for the first time, moving from Kimball High School.

For some relay participants — such as Julie Gard, the team captain of Mrs. Gard’s Team, a group of West High Advancement Via Individual Determination students — the importance hit home long before they stepped onto the asphalt.

“On Easter Sunday, we started making luminaria bags,” Gard said. “When we started going through the names, we realized all the people we know who have been affected by cancer.”

Gard has been at the past eight annual relays, since her aunt’s cancer diagnosis.

“I had always wanted to go to Relay For Life, and then when she was diagnosed, I said, ‘We’re doing this,’ and we’ve been here ever since,” Gard said.

Relay for Life kicked off with the announcement of Sarah Stillwell as the Caregiver of the Year and Kim Thomassen as Survivor of the Year during Saturday morning’s opening ceremonies.

“I had no idea — I’m in awe.” Thomassen said. “There are many survivors who are in worse shape than me.”

Thomassen served on the relay committee as Youth Chair for the first time this year, but she has attended the past five relays since she was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008. She has also been diagnosed with bladder cancer, which has been in remission for a year.

Thomassen was a team captain for the Mom Loves (her) Boys/Making Life Better-MLB relay team.

“Relay For Life has become my passion, to make sure other survivors can come out and walk,” Thomassen said.

“It’s kids like Matt why I do this,” she added referring to West High School baseball player Matt Sullivan, who is fighting leukemia.

Thomassen and other survivors wearing purple were joined by caregivers making the first laps around the parking lot to open Tracy’s Relay for Life.

Tents and booths were set up on the pavement in gusty winds as team members took turns walking throughout the 24-hour event.

Andrea Stegmeier, team captain for NFL — Neighbors, Friends and Loved-ones — manned a booth selling T-shirts emblazoned with “Cancer sucks” across the chest.

Stegmeier said the relay had a special place in her heart, as her mother, Sarah Low, died from cancer two years ago.

“It’s a great cause and it helps bring the community together,” Stegmeier said.

Walkers could participate in themed laps every hour throughout the day.

Costumed crime fighters walked during the superheroes lap, while wild wigs took center stage during the crazy hair and wig lap.

Ingrid Chapman and her 14-year-old daughter, Anne Marie, teamed up to walk laps during their fourth Relay For Life. Chapman, a lab supervisor at Sutter Tracy Hospital, said she knew the effects of cancer too well.

“I work in the health field, so I see cancer a lot. I have four friends that have breast cancer,” Chapman said. “It is always out there. You are going to encounter it in personal and professional life.”

Anne Marie donated 8 inches of her hair to make wigs for cancer patients during a hair cutting by Rumors on 10th hair salon. She said she had been waiting to cut her hair for years and decided to cut it at the relay for a good cause.

“I had a friend who died of cancer, and I thought this would be really nice for relay,” Anne Marie said.

A special butterfly release was held at 5 p.m. Saturday, sponsored by the Denny’s team. Participants could buy a butterfly that was released in honor or in memory of someone with cancer.

Organizers sprang a flash mob at 8 p.m. Saturday for Sullivan, the West High student with leukemia. West High baseball teammates and cheerleaders led the dance, which was followed by Sullivan leading a lap around the relay course in a conga line.

A luminaria ceremony was held in the evening, and the relay wrapped up with closing ceremonies and the final lap Sunday morning.

According to the Tracy Relay For Life website, the local relay had raised $179,975 through Tuesday. Donations will still be accepted until August.

Top individual fundraisers were Bill Swenson, raising $4,555; Robin Lopez, $3,650; and Sandy George, $2,235. Top teams were Taylor Farms, bringing in $32,683; Team Swenson, $13,333 and Denny’s, $11,070.

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