By Carey Neff
RED BANK – More than $54,000 was raised for cancer research by hundreds of people who came to walk around the track at Red Bank Regional High School for the annual Relay for Life fundraiser.
More than 400 people attended the event, held in partnership with the American Cancer Society, that ran from Friday afternoon, May 18, through early morning Saturday, May 19.
The Relay for Life participants created teams and raised money in the months leading up to the overnight event. During the Red Bank relay, teams set up tents on the football field Friday beginning at 3 p.m. and prepared for the night. Each team was required to have one team member walking the track at all times until the conclusion at 5:30 a.m. Saturday.
Jon Bitman, a Little Silver resident and councilman, officially opened the event at 7 p.m. Bitman, who is fighting Stage IV pancreatic cancer, talked about his personal battle with cancer, telling people it was “the fight of a life.” He gave those battling cancer the message: Stay positive and keep fighting.
Bitman also thanked those who came to the event to support cancer research.
During the opening ceremonies, cancer survivors were presented with medallions and asked to lead the ceremonial first lap of the night. That lap, known in the nationwide Relay for Life program as the Survivors Lap, allowed those who have battled the disease to walk with their families and caregivers while others gathered around the track to cheer them on with thundering applause and words of encouragement.
After the ceremonial lap, Relay for Life began.
Participants made their way around the track – some running, some hula-hooping, and others simply strolling in groups – throughout the night. Others enjoyed live music provided by local high school bands, or the various activities available, including tug-of-war, scavenger hunts, and game show-like contests.
Each participant had his or her own individual reason for attending relay.
John Luckenbill of Shrewsbury walked because his niece died from liver cancer at age 24. He and his family “wanted to carry on (his) niece’s memory and support those that have survived and are fighting cancer.”
Patty Metlitz of Little Silver came because her mom is a breast cancer survivor and wants to help find a cure for cancer.
Jack McLoone, a Little Silver resident, RBR freshman and six-year cancer survivor, spoke about his fight with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. “Relay is about trying to find a creative way to raise money for an important cause,” McLoone said. The event is a “fun way to come together with those fighting and surviving cancer.”
The 10 p.m. Luminaria Ceremony was one of the most emotional moments of the night. All participants walked a lap in silence while holding candles. The track was lined with luminaria, white paper bags lit from within by candles, that were placed in memory of those who have survived or died from cancer.
After those solemn moments, the fun continued. Bands played throughout the night, and activities went on to keep tired participants awake. As the night wore on, some participants napped while others huddled around tents to keep warm in the cool night. The walking never stopped, however, and many were still seen walking strong into the early morning hours.
The 5:30 a.m. closing ceremony wrapped another successful Relay for Life at Red Bank Regional. The tired participants gathered their belongings and went home after a long night of fun and remembrance.
Editor’s note: Carey Neff is a junior at Red Bank Regional High School.