Relay walkers unite against cancer |

Relay walkers unite against cancer

Everyone who attended Steamboat Springs’ inaugural Relay for Life fundraiser Friday night had his or her own reason for participating.

But whether it was their own lives or the lives of loved ones or friends that had been affected by cancer, the Relay for Life attendees united around one common goal, spelled out in glowing luminaries in that stands at Steamboat Springs High School’s Gardner Field — hope.

The event, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, continued throughout the night and into Saturday morning as participants circled the high school track to raise money for cancer research.

Part fundraiser, part celebration of cancer survival, the local Relay for Life event began Friday night with an initial lap featuring more than 40 local cancer survivors. That lap was followed by a survivor reception and the official start of the 22-team relay. The teams of between eight and 15 participants didn’t raise money per lap, but rather had sought pledge and donation support before the race and were required to have at least one member of the team walking around the track from the 6:45 p.m. Friday start until the 10:30 a.m. Saturday finish.

Originally started in 1985 by a Tacoma, Wash., doctor who spent 25 hours circling a track to raise money for cancer, Relay for Life events are now hosted internationally as the American Cancer Society’s primary fundraiser. This is the first year Steamboat has hosted the event.

R.J. Ours, Colorado director of ACS government relations, said there are about 80 Relay for Life events hosted statewide. He was impressed by the amount of local participation.

“For a lot of people, it’s a very impactful thing and a huge commitment to honor those who have lived through cancer and those whose lives have been affected,” said ACS community relationship manager Sarah Catlin. “It’s important for people to get in touch with the emotion of the ones they’ve lost or the one’s that survived to put an arm around.”

Barbi Bonfiglio, a breast cancer survivor, said during the survivor’s reception that she has received tremendous community support.

“(Cancer) is more prevalent than you think here. With a smaller community, you tend to know people that are affected,” Bonfiglio said.

Other survivors found it therapeutic and empowering to simply make their way around the track with the company and support of family and friends, occasionally taking a rest in the tents set up on the lower high school field.

By nightfall, participants lined the track with luminarias, each one honoring cancer survivors and victims.

Catlin said luminaria sales raised more than $6,000, and the reading of the names of the people to whom luminarias were dedicated lasted more than an hour.

“It was so beautiful — very surreal,” said luminaria chairwoman Annette Hall, who said it was particularly emotional for her because she has lost her mother, father and brother to cancer in the past three years.

With live music and Hay–den’s Ken Prescott on the microphone — sporting his “Cancer sucks” T-shirt and reportedly drinking more than 20 cups of coffee during the night — teams such as Peak Fitness’ “Team Aloha” were still going strong come Saturday morning. Team Aloha was anchored by cancer survivor Derek Han–nula, who methodically paced around the track. He didn’t sleep all night, instead walking around the track and continuing his battle against cancer in his own way.

After raising more than $45,000 from team donations and $8,000 from sponsors, Relay for Life organizers said they are excited to host the event again next year. The Prudential Steamboat Realty team raised the most money.

— To reach Dave Shively, call 846-1129

or e-mail

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