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Women walk for a cure at local Relay for Life events

Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society's premiere fundraising event of the year. The Muscogee County event will take place from 7 p.m. Friday, May 18 through 7 a.m. Saturday, May 19 at Kinnett Stadium.

Denise Dowdy, senior community manager for the Columbus office of the American Cancer Society, said that while they encourage participation in teams, individuals can participate as well.

And everyone is welcome to attend the event -- even if you have no desire to walk, donations will be accepted during Relay and teams will have tents set up selling food and other items to raise additional funds.

One of the more emotional parts of Relay is the Survivor's Walk, which takes place immediately following the 7 p.m. opening ceremony.

"It's the coolest thing where we try to convince anyone who's been diagnosed with cancer to -- we'll give them a free t-shirt, all they have to do is fill out a form -- if they come that day, we encourage them to walk that first lap," said David Fletcher, event co-chair. "And then surrounding the track, as the survivors walk that first lap, are just people cheering them on. And it kind of will bring a tear to your eye."

The Luminary Ceremony is another important aspect of Relay. At 9:30 p.m., luminarias will be lit in memory of loved ones who have lost their fight with cancer or to honor survivors. Luminaria may be purchased in advance or at the event.

For more information about the Muscogee County Relay for Life, visit RelayforLife.org/Muscogee.

Several local Relay team leaders have shared what Relay for Life means to them with her magazine:

Name: Carole Donahue

Organization/Team Name: Kysor/Warren

How long have you been Relaying? As a company we have been Relaying since 2010. I have personally Relayed since the start of Harris County Relay.

Why do you Relay? I Relay for many reasons but the special ones are my father, Thomas Lipp who passed away in 2003 with lung cancer and my mother, Elaine Lipp who is a two-time breast cancer survivor and lives each day to the fullest. Also, for many of my friends and co-workers who have lost the fight with cancer.

What does Relay for Life mean to you? Relay means a chance for ONE MORE DAY. Who knows who's dollar will be the one to find the cure but I sure hope it is one of mine.

How has participating in Relay changed/affected your life? Relay has opened my eyes to all the chances available and giving someone ONE MORE DAY. I enjoy every minute of collecting money for Relay because it gives that person a chance to share their story or share a smile. Relay brings out the best in everyone.

Name: Jennifer Davis

Organization/Team Name: MCSD AppleJacks

How long have you been Relaying? 6 years

Why do you Relay? First, for my dad, who is a cancer survivor. Second, to find a cure. I am confident someday there will be a cure for cancer and I will have the satisfaction of knowing that I played a very small part in it. Third, to continue the fight against this tragic disease and to touch others' lives as I myself have been touched.

What does Relay for Life mean to you? HOPE! Relay is a step to finding the cure needed to end this horrible disease. Relay gives us the chance to honor and remember those lost to cancer, celebrate those who are still with us and fighting back and work towards a future without cancer.

How has participating in Relay changed/affected your life? Participating in Relay has reminded me of the moments in my life that have been touched by cancer.

Name: Jenny Carver

Organization/Team Name: Crowns for a Cure Relay for Life Team

How long have you been Relaying? 6 years

Why do you Relay? I Relay to help find a cure for cancer and help fund support for those fighting cancer. Many people in my life have been stricken with cancer and I have seen the toll it takes on not only the cancer victim but the family members as well. Right now, this year, I Relay for 8-year-old Tori Svenson, a little girl I met during my involvement with my granddaughter's pageants and the local Relay for Life Pageant that I direct. We were going into our fourth year with the Miss Relay for Life pageant when cancer stuck one of the girls who had registered to compete. Little Tori was diagnosed with a brain tumor just three weeks prior to the 2011 pageant, at the age of seven. She is currently battling Medulloblastoma (brain cancer). No child should ever have to go through that, and no parent should ever have to watch their child go through it. Our children should have more HOPE for their future, they should not have to fear or fight something as random and as painful as cancer. THAT is why I Relay.

What does Relay for Life mean to you? Relay for Life to me is a lot of people rallying together for a common cause. We are stronger in numbers so to me, Relay for Life means HOPE HOPE for prevention, HOPE for more early diagnoses, HOPE for more successful treatment options, HOPE for better support, HOPE for a more healthy future, HOPE for a cure, HOPE for a world with no more cancer. Relay for Life means HOPE.

How has participating in Relay changed/affected your life? Wow, where do I even begin? Being involved in Relay for Life has brought people into my life that I may never have had the privilege to know. It has educated me and made me more aware and more concerned about cancer and just how many people are affected by it as well as keeping me updated on what is being done medically and politically to combat cancer. It has opened the door for me to be able to help young ladies of all ages be involved in a worthy cause and helped me to show them and their families that you are never too young to be able to help others and make a difference. As the director for the annual Miss Relay for Life Pageant for Muscogee County, the yearly fundraiser sponsored by my team, Crowns for a Cure, I have met the most wonderful people and have been able to share in their stories of why they want to be involved. But the most rewarding thing for me is to see these little girls and young ladies who are competing in the pageant, out helping to raise money. They are not required to do it but most choose to do it. They are so proud of themselves because they know they are helping to make a difference in the fight against cancer $1 at a time. They set goals and work really hard to achieve them. These young ladies are the future. I never realized when my daughter and I started the pageant five years ago just how blessed I would be by our involvement in it. I feel honored to be a part of it.

Name: Wanda A. Rutledge

Organization/Team Name: TIC Federal Credit Union

How long have you been Relaying? Eight plus years

Why do you Relay? As a company, we've all been touched by cancer in some way. Our President/CEO lost her mother to cancer and we had a co-worker, Leroy White, die of cancer and from that we decided to take a more aggressive role. I have lost a sister and recently a brother to cancer. We have a couple of survivors on board now. So that is why I relay!

How has participating in Relay changed/affected your life? The impact this disease has is heartbreaking, heartwarming and hopeful and has affected me in that way. Heartbreaking to lose someone, heartwarming to see how hard survivors fight and hopeful that there will be a cure.

Name: Kelsey Duck

Organization/Team Name: Pink Pearls (our team is a group of family and friends)

How long have you been Relaying? I have been a part of Relay for around 8-10 years but created a team and started designing t-shirts as a fundraiser four years ago.

Why do you Relay? I Relay for my mother who is almost eight years in remission and my grandfather who is a year in remission. I also Relay for my future mother-in-law, Teresa Hughes, my grandfather, Dewey Neely, and my neighbor growing up, Doug Harris, all who have lost their battles to cancer. Finally, I Relay for those who have not been diagnosed and have not had to fight their fight yet; cancer does not discriminate, it is found in all races, all nationalities and all religions. I could one day be battling cancer myself, that's why I Relay.

What does Relay for Life mean to you? Relay for Life is a sign of hope. It tells me that there are plenty of people out there that are willing to help in the fight against cancer. Communities across the nation raise money to fund research that helps us understand cancer's causes, determine how best to prevent it and discover new ways to cure it. My mother's breast cancer was caught in time to treat and she is still here today because of a simple mammogram, a test that was developed using money raised in ways such as Relay for Life. Relay for Life means more lives saved.

How has participating in Relay changed/affected your life? Participating in Relay has helped me cherish the little things in life. Cancer used to be something bad that I had knowledge of, but was not much I thought about. Participating in Relay has shown me how many people are affected by cancer and what a big deal it really is. It has made me enjoy every day that God gives me and live it with my family and friends knowing that tomorrow is never promised.

Name: Mary Minkanic

Organization/Team Name: Aflac Miracle Makers

How long have you been Relaying? Close to 15 years

Why do you Relay? This is not an easy question to answer as I just can't cover everything in one answer. I started Relaying before losing family and friends to cancer. Since losing my loved ones, I Relay that much harder! I can't bring back the ones I've lost but I hope my efforts help my friends and others that are currently going through treatment survive that much longer.

What does Relay for Life mean to you? Relay is an extremely important cause. Not that any other cause is less important, but I'm touched more by Relay than most other diseases. If I didn't participate, I'd feel as if I let my friends, family and myself down.

How has participating in Relay changed/affected your life? It's made me feel like I'm making a difference in someone's life. I've met many people through Relay that have made a difference in mine. Raising money and Relaying for such a great cause is a really good feeling!

Name: Lisa Bryant

Organization/Team Name: Pratt & Whitney/Soaring for a Cure

How long have you been Relaying? This is my first year participating in Relay for Life.

Why do you Relay? I relay to raise money for the American Cancer Society in hopes that daughters have the opportunity to share more birthdays with their mothers. I lost my mother to cancer five years ago. The sad reality of the disease is that it knows no boundaries. This disease trickled down into my heart and touched every sense of my emotional well-being. I thought cancer could not happen to my family, but cancer stripped me of many long, happy years with my mother.

What does Relay for Life mean to you? Relay means that I have the power to provide hope to people facing cancer. I know that every dollar raised for Relay could mean more birthdays for those that fight this battle.

How has participating in Relay changed/affected your life? Relay has affected my life in such a positive way. Along with my wonderful group of team members we have worked hard and brainstormed on many different ideas to raise money for Relay. Participating in Relay has given me the feeling of accomplishment of giving back. Cancer stole my mother from me and I'm working hard to help in the fight to save more lives. I want cancer patients to know that there are hundreds of caring people right here in Muscogee County fighting to give them hope and comfort.

MUSCOGEE COUNTY RELAY FOR LIFE

When: 7 p.m. Friday, May 18-7 a.m. Saturday, May 19

Where: Kinnett Stadium

RUSSELL COUNTY RELAY FOR LIFE

When: 7 p.m. Friday, May 4-7 a.m. Saturday, May 5

Where: Garrett-Harrison Stadium

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