For Barb Gorman, the best part of the Relay for Life event every year comes at 5:30 a.m., when everyone shakes off their exhaustion and gets up to walk around the track as the sun rises.
To Gorman, the Douglas County Relay for Life co-chair, this symbolizes the end of one Relay, and the introduction to another.
“When the sun is just coming up, we get up and get moving right along,” Gorman said. “It’s like we’re heading into the next one.”
Seventy-six teams and 866 participants spent the night at Free State High School football stadium, walking around the track from 7 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday, representing the idea that cancer doesn’t sleep.
Last year, the Douglas County Relay for Life was the largest Relay in Kansas, and was named one of the top 25 Relays in the High Plains region of the American Cancer Society, which includes Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands and Guam. The event raised $182,000, which provided classes, drives, flights, lodging and other services to 160 cancer patients in the county.
This year, the organization’s goal is $190,000. As of Friday afternoon, $169,000 had been raised.
“We’ve been challenged this year,” said Shelle Arnold, also a Relay co-chair. “We’re just going to keep putting that bar up there a little higher.”
To reach this goal, Gorman and Arnold encouraged teams to keep fundraising during the Relay event. They have also extended the deadline for fundraising to Friday, June 14.
Just before the opening ceremony Friday evening, music played over the sound system as participants bought luminarias and looked through silent auction items while assembling tables, lawn chairs and tents to prepare for the 12-hour event. Around 7:30 p.m., survivors, easily distinguishable in their purple T-shirts, took the first lap around the track.
Gorman, who began volunteering with the Relay in 2005 after her mother died of leukemia, joined the sea of purple in that initial lap. Gorman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, and is now in her fourth year of remission.
“After my mother died, I just wanted to do something to help myself heal and recognize her,” Gorman said. “Once I was diagnosed, being in the Relay was a very different feeling. It helped me get through it.”