By Michael S. Rohde
It’s hard to believe, but it has been 24 years since a small group of cancer survivors and friends started the first Meriden Relay for Life in 1996, the new signature event of the American Cancer Society at Platt High School.
Relay for Life was started by Dr. Kordy Klatt of Tacoma Washington, who in 1985 started it by running for a continuous 24 hours on a track to draw attention to the dreaded disease of cancer. Relay for Life then spread across the country.
I remember the sense of excitement we experienced here in Meriden, launching this first-ever event in our area especially since it replaced the dreaded “Jail and Bail” fundraiser the previous year.
This year, the Relay will be held in Wallingford at Sheehan High School track on Friday May 31 and Saturday June 1. This event has rotated between Meriden and Wallingford since Wallingford joined the Relay and has been a strong bond between our adjoining communities for fighting cancer together ever since.
As for me, involvement with the Relay was prompted by my battle with cancer in 1986, at age forty. I survived - and to this day, I still vividly remember the many emotions (fear, uncertainty, anger, emotional highs and lows) that I experienced during my five-month battle receiving chemotherapy. I still recall the many unpleasant side effects of the poisonous toxins used to eradicate the cancer. But most importantly, I remember the pure joy and relief knowing I had beaten this dreaded disease and could now could continue on with my life as a husband and father.
So, when I was asked to chair the first Relay for Life event for Meriden in 1996, I agreed. After all, had it not been for the research that resulted in my cure, I wouldn’t be here.
Little did I, nor my group of friends, imagine at the time that we would begin one of the biggest annual charitable fundraisers for a great cause in the history of our communities.
In our first year we tripled our funding goal reaching $69,000 followed by $120,000 and then totaling nearly one million dollars by our fifth year. The Relay has gone on to raise over $4 million to date to support research and patient and survivor services.
The Meriden and Wallingford communities have come together for 23 years to generously support the Relay for Life. This event not only raises critical funds in the fight against cancer but provides an opportunity for those impacted by cancer to come together to share hope and sadness and support each other.
This year’s event, as noted above, will take place at Sheehan High School track in Wallingford on Friday May 31 and Saturday June 1.
The theme this year is: “Relay Around the Clock” a fifties Rock and Roll theme. At 10:00 a.m. on Friday, campsite set up begins followed by a soft opening at 3 p.m. when registration starts. The official opening is at 6 p.m. with a survivor lap on the track followed by a caregiver lap. The luminary ceremony takes place at 9:30 p.m. with a torch lap in memory of Ethan Cruz then quiet walking time through the night. Saturday morning 5 a.m. is breakfast and at 8 a.m. the “Fight Back” ceremony takes place. Relay closes at 10 a.m.
Throughout the Relay there are activities for all ages, theme laps, food (Ted’s Steamed Cheeseburgers Truck, Ice Cream Truck), radio station WPLR and the “Dream Princesses,” DJ music and much more and admission is free. Relay for Life truly brings communities together to fight cancer and offer hope and solace to all who attend.
A longtime friend and supporter of Relay, Betty Berger, offered this: “I am participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life because I want to make a meaningful difference in the fight against cancer. Participating in the Relay for Life allows me to fight back, to make a difference and to add my voice to the many who are making advances in cancer research.”
The American Cancer Society is the premier organization leading the fight against cancer. Thanks to our combined efforts with Relay for Life, they are winning this fight. New treatments have resulted in the cures for many cancers, cancer remissions, and improved quality of life for cancer victims of all ages. Please join us at Sheehan High School on Friday, May 31 for the 24th Annual Meriden/Wallingford Relay for Life. For further information contact Lynn Kipphut, American Cancer Society, 203-379-4874.
Michael S. Rohde is a former Meriden mayor and city councilor.