The threat posed by prowling thunderstorms Friday night did not stop hundreds of walkers, volunteers, spectators and supporters from turning up at East Ridge High School track for the annual Relay For Life of South Washington County.
The dusk-to-dawn walk raises money for the American Cancer Society. Perhaps more importantly, it allows survivors to tell their stories and to encourage others still fighting the disease.
Survivor Bridget Olson, 20, the daughter of co-chair Dave Olson, lit the torch to begin the event. Olson's wife and mother-in-law also beat cancer, he said.
Bill Sawyer and Michelle Alpers also chaired the event.
During his opening remarks, Sawyer called Liam Murray, 12, up on stage to congratulate him for raising $375 for the American Cancer Society. Liam, a student at Lake Middle School, said he wanted to shave his head just for fun but that his mother would only let him do so if he raised $100 to fight cancer
This years event, which drew 80 teams and 700 registered participants, had new attractions such as food trucks, as well as traditional rituals such as the lighting of hundreds of memorial luminaria at 10 p.m. to remember those who fought to the end.
State Sen. Susan Kent's appearance at this year's Relay for Life was different this year, and nobody was more aware of that than her.
Kent, of Woodbury, was the 2016 Honorary Cancer Survivor. She spoke to the crowd about how surreal and frightening it was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A longtime advocate at the State Capitol on behalf of the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network and the Healthy Kids Coalition, she underwent surgery and treatment and is cancer free and back at work.
She thanked her fellow survivors for "the courage you demonstrate and the way you light the path to those who follow in your footsteps."
The survivors, who wore purple shirts, began the event with a victory lap around the tent as supporters cheered.
Leading the way were friends Sharon McCoy of Newport and John Leis of Woodbury. The two met at the YMCA. McCoy, 81, overcame daunting odds to beat pancreatic cancer. Leis, who is battling brain cancer, has a longer road ahead of him.