Rain cuts relay short but hope burns eternal for veteran participants
by Briana Sutherland
The Elk River High School track was full of people on Aug. 5 who were all there for the same reason: to help find a cure for cancer and fill the world with more birthdays.
The American Cancer Society event successfully raised more than $31,000 for their endeavor, but it was cut short by bad weather.
Shortly after 8 p.m. the skies turned dark and rain began to threaten the annual relay.
Many teams took cover underneath their tents in hopes of the rain ending, while a few people braved the elements and continued to walk around the track.
But as the skies continued to grow darker, lightning began to flash across the sky and the wind picked up and began tearing down team tents.
By 9 p.m. American Cancer Society officials called off the event.
Some scampered to the concession stand, but there was not an available indoor option.
That put an end to both the luminary lighting ceremony and any plans participants had to walk all night.
The rain left the brightly decorated bags slumped in pools of water that formed around the track.
The silent auction was finished, too, and teams scrambled to pack up their equipment in the pouring rain and blustering winds.
It’s doubtful hope for a cure was dashed, however. Many of the ties that bind relay participants to the event are deeply rooted.
Abby, Ben, Kevin and Chris Trenholm walk each year in memory of their relative, Nishon. Nishon was a 17-year-old Elk River student who died from cancer in 2002.
“We walk every year,” said Kevin. “The kids were too young to remember Nishon and this is a way to keep her memory alive for them.”
Opening events began as planned at 7 p.m. with an introduction from Melissa Meyer, the sponsor chair committee member for the Elk River Relay for Life event.
“Everyone is here for the same reason, to find a cure,” Meyer said to the teams.
There are about 5,000 other communities that host their own Relay for Life event across America throughout the year.
“We want to create a world with more birthdays,” said Meyer.
Teams typically walk for 12 hours straight during this event to symbolize a cancer patient’s journey, because cancer never sleeps.
When the sun goes down it symbolizes the time a person receives the news they have cancer.
By walking through the night with team members, family, friends and co-workers symbolize the love and support they give a person who is battling cancer.
Finally, when the sun comes up it means there is hope. That keeps people coming back.
The Mazatlan Boxcars, Amy’s Angels and Locomotion are teams from Central Lutheran Church. Carol Eckstrom, who led Locomotion for the sixth time, said she enjoys the event each year.
There are five survivors on Locomotion alone, with around 30 years of total survivorship. Her husband, Don Eckstrom, is a survivor of 10 years.
“It’s a great bunch of people, we work well together and have a lot of fun,” said Eckstrom. “We get a lot of support from friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.”
Michelle Sonderup, the online chair committee member for this Elk River event, is part of the Stomp’n For A Cure team consisting of 20 people.
After attending the first committee meeting and not seeing a large number of people present, she decided she wanted to participate.
“I really wanted to make this relay possible,” said Sonderup.
Karolyn Barrett, a 6-year-old from Elk River, captured the hearts of many. Named the honorary chairperson for the 2011 Relay for Life, she stood with her parents during the opening ceremony as her mother, Tammy, spoke to all in attendance.
She spoke of a brief conversation she had with Karolyn earlier in the day. Karolyn had told her mother that tonight was a really big night.
When asked why, Karolyn responded, “Because I am a survivor.”
Survivors walk the first lap of the relay together, with the second lap being walked by all members of each team. From then on, at least one member of each team is to remain on the track for the rest of the event.
This year, that wasn’t possible.
“Hopefully the weather will be better next year,” said Michelle Collins, another committee member.