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Relay for Life focuses on fun

Putting fun in fundraising is the idea behind this year’s Relay for Life event in The Dalles, happening over 24 hours this Saturday and Sunday, June 22 and 23, at the Wahtonka campus Sid White Field.

“It’s a celebration of life,” said Don Wimberly, who is directing the event with his wife, Gae, “both of the living and the lives of those who have passed.”

Relay for Life has been going on in The Dalles when pharmacist Marilyn Wong started organizing the event in honor of one of her loved ones.

“When I had cancer back in 2005, I didn’t know what Relay for Life was,” Wimberly said. He learned that cancer isn’t always a death sentence. “I found out there is more life at the end of the tunnel.”

When he and his wife took on Relay for Life coordination, they thought that was the attitude Relay for Life should have. Many of the local teams had taken on a competitive approach to the event, but at the suggestion of retired school teacher Bob Koch, this year’s event has taken a different turn.

“He clicked into school teacher mode and said what we need to do in this group is act as a friendly community and get away from the competition,” Wimberly said.

The cooperative approach seems to have worked. Fundraising has increased more than 20 percent heading into Relay weekend.

“We’re going into Relay weekend with slightly less than what we ended up with last year,” Wimberly said. “Usually, we get 35 to 40 percent of our total income for the Relay comes at the big event.”

He credits the boost to Koch’s effort to change the focus.

“He has become a true leader.”

Relay participants and visitors will see some changes in the layout of the Relay booths and activities thanks to some help with electrical service at the event from Matt Larsen at Discover Rentals.

“I have worked these kinds of events all my life on the West Coast as a publicity person,” Wimberly said. “I’ve noticed when you plug in the coffee pots, everything goes off.”

Larsen supplied a big generator to help power the event, but when that wasn’t enough to supply booths at both ends of the field, Larsen contacted a friend in Portland and retrieved a second generator. He also supplies a variety of furniture for the event as well.

“He doesn’t charge us for anything but the gas and fuel,” Wimberly said.

So booths will have more room to spread out now and line the entire field, with the survivor tent on one end and the luminaria tent at the other end.

Besides the opening and closing ceremonies, Relay for Life includes two mainstay events. The luminaria event, which honors people lost to cancer is at 10 p.m., midway through the event, when decorated paper bag luminaria line the walking course in memory of those who have died.

A relatively new event is the Fight Back Ceremony at 3:30 p.m.

“The Fight Back Ceremony is only two or three years old,” Wimberley said. “It involves handing out little white flags that are on a stick, for survivors principally. We discovered — and we should have know all along — that Relay for Life is primarily, 80 percent for survivors. And we noticed that survivor attendance has been dropping, and has been dropping nationally.”

All survivors are asked to attend the Fight Back Ceremony, where they receive a white flag symbolic of their fight.

“The flag to the Fight Back Ceremony is as the luminary is to the Luminaria Ceremony,” Wimberly said. “[Survivors] are given flags to carry the rest of the day when they walk laps to show they are indeed celebrating life after a cancer diagnosis.”

As part of that ceremony, Doreen Koch, a survivor and longtime cancer cause advocate will tell her story. Also speaking will be M.J. Newcomb, an American Cancer Society coordinator, who will speak on behalf of all survivors.

Jared Fischer, Ph.D., a cancer researcher at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland will speak at the 10 a.m. opening ceremony Saturday. Fischer is currently in the department of Molecular and Medical Genetics at OHSU. He recently received a postdoctoral fellowship from the American Cancer Society. Money raised through Relay for Life helps fund work such as Fischer’s.

His current work involves studying colon cancer with a mouse model of sporadic cancer. The mouse model allows for the genetic manipulation of many different genes in single, isolated cells.

“All his grant money comes from Relay for Life,” Wimberly said.

Since it was founded in 1946, the American Cancer Society’s research program has played a role in nearly every major breakthrough in cancer, including confirming the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer; establishing the link between obesity and multiple cancers; developing drugs to treat leukemia and advanced breast cancer; and showing that mammography is the most effective way to detect breast cancer.

Several musicians have been added to the mix. Take Two with Ted Horwitz plays from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. and again from 4 to 4:30 p.m. Horwitz’ wife died of cancer in Ohio, Wimberly said, he has been donating his talents to Relay for Life ever since, wherever he is living.

The Dalles residents Adam Holeman and Bobby MaCleod will perform during the dinner hour, in the gymnasium starting at 5 p.m.

“When I used to sit for cancer treatments [at Cecilo Center] in 2005, this boy [Holeman] would come in and play a 45-minute concert,” Wimberly said.

Also new this year is a first aid unit provided by Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue and what Wimberly calls “a foo foo tent.”

“There will be five women in two tents who will be doing free hair styling, hair cutting, nails — all the stuff you women love — massages, and a Mary Kay lady who will give everything she makes to relay for life.

Relay also includes a new event this year, Mr. Relay for Life 2013, at 7 p.m. Contestants, including Koch and Wimberly and a dozen others, will dress up like women.

“Bob has gone heart and soul after this one; he wants to win the contest,” Wimberly said.

While the men are performing for the talent part of the contest, the other contestants will go through the crowd and solicit funds for Relay for Life. Whoever raises the most will be Mr. Relay for Life 2013.

“We hope we’re going to have fun,” Wimberly added. “The weather is cooperating. It is supposed to be 84 on Saturday with an 11 percent chance of rain — that’s almost nothing around here.”

Last year’s event was driven indoors for the first time as a result of a fierce midday rain and wind storm. Outdoor activities were able to resume later after the weather cleared.

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