The annual Relay for Life in Storm Lake has proven to be everything its organizers had imagined years ago. "This extraordinary event has galvanized this community for a common cause," co-chairperson Kathy Goodman said in the opening ceremonies Saturday evening at Storm Lake High School Track.
There are currently 10.1 million Americans considered to be cancer survivors, and the survivial rate continues to improve. "Each dollar brings us that much closer to eliminating this threat," she said.
The crowd was small initially, representing mainly the more than 20 teams that took part in the all-night relay walk. But as the hours passed, supporters continued to stream in, eventually packing the area for a night of games, entertainment, food, and poignant moments, while walkers continued their good-natured, unending stoll in the muggy heat.
The total amount raised is still being calculated, but is expected to reach $40,000.
Goodman said the volunteer team that organized the event was very pleased with the turnout. "We had over 500 for the dinner alone, and thanks to Sara Lee, that brought in over $1,300 in free will donations."
The high point of the event was the Survivors Lap - scores of cancer survivors outfitted with special purple t-shirts and purple balloons made a trip around the track to the applause of the audience, and released their balloons into the sky with a rousing cheer. Friends and family then poured onto the track and took another circuit with them.
On the way, many of the survivors told a little about their own journeys - from one banner bearer just two weeks into her treatment, to a woman who has achieved 56 years as a survivor. One of the participants has beaten cancer three times.
For co-chair Kelly Wollesen-Steffen, the event kindles bittersweet memories. As a young girl, she lost her mother to cancer.
"I remember how weak she was. I used to think that she had just put up the white flag and surrendered. Only now I realize that she did fight and held her defenses for as long as she could," she said.
This year's theme was "Cancer - The Real Deal," set up around a game show attitude.
It was not intended to take cancer lightly, but to point out the fact that life is now winning over the deadly illness - well over 60 percent of all people diagnosed with cancer today are still alive and well five years later. And, she confided, her mother had a special love for TV game shows.
"Every day someone we know and love is dealing with cancer," Kelly said. "We have to fight back with teeth and nails, kicking and screaming all the way."
Clearly touched, the crowd joined her in a mighty cry of "Let's Beat Cancer" that echoed back across the field.
The Relay for Life first began in 1985. After several daytime events, the decision was made in Storm Lake this year to return to Relay to its roots - a walk all through the night.
The symbolism is significant, Kathy said. As darkness falls, it represents the dark times after a patient is diagnosed with cancer, and the pain they endure as they carry on. And just when it seems they could get no wearier, she said, day breaks, and with the daylight comes hope.
Many of the local traditions continued to thrive.
Teams set up unusual campsites, one building a facade of a red barn and offering cowboy style games like pin the tail on the bull.
Many of the teams held their own versions of game shows for walkers circling the track, even an impromptu tournament of bingo.
Meanwhile, children and adults competes in dodgeball, tug of war, volleyball and karaoke tournaments. Overnight, special laps were offered such as the ever-popular Chicken Dance Lap, Twin Lap and a new Game Show Host Lap.
Local performers, including the St. Mary's Drill Team, guitarists Josh Nielsen and Justin Walsh, and Alta teenage rock band "Rock Bottom," kept the crowd's spirits up.
The track was circled late in the evening by glowing luminaries, decorated in support of local cancer survivors or in memory of cancer victims by their loved ones. Kim Weiland and Mary Timko, both cancer survivors themselves, read the names of those lost to cancer, followed by a Lap of Silence.
Teams registered prior to the walk, and their captains, included:
* Buena Vista County Cruisers
Buena Vista County Courthouse
Captain Dewyne Stucynski
* Rotary Spokes
Storm Lake Rotary
A. A. Stepan
* Flower Power
* Ag Partners
* Loyal Order of The Moose
* St. Mark's Lutheran Church Team
St. Mark's Lutheran Church
* Methodist Messengers
Harold Geisinger- In Memory of Laura Mae
* Team Mooove It
Ranco Fertiservice, Sioux Rapids
* Hand Clappers For A Cure
* See-a-CURE-ity Team
Security Trust & Savings Bank
* Team Cure
TRIMARK - Buena Vista Clinic
Deb Langner, Tara Meyer
* Turkey Trotters
Sara Lee Foods Inc.
* United Community Health Center
* Cancer Kicking Coeds
Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency
* Teresa Stuhr
* Pioneer Seeds
* St. Paul Lutheran Church, Alta
Jerry Kolpin(Myron Kolpin)
* 1st Family & Friends
Citizen's First National Bank
* Jenny's Jets
TRIMARK Family Health
* Truesdale Bar/Grill
United Assembly of God Church
* Curves' A 'Lure'ing Ladies
Anne Degner, Melissa Keller
Brewsters of Storm Lake
* Survive ALL Beavers
Buena Vista University
Beth McNally, Heather Nyren
* Crab Apple
Alta Education Assoc.