As the sun began to rise, transforming night into day, the full moon remained visible in the early morning sky. For me, it was the perfect way to wrap up another 12 hour Relay for Life event. The final laps, as always, were run with tears leaking down my face and an attempt to hide the emotions from those that had braved the night. It never fails. I always cry knowing that this celebration of hope is, once again, coming to a close. I cry for those that we have lost, for those that are courageously fighting and for those that have won. I cry for the families, friends and caregivers. I cry secure in the knowledge that our children can one day live in a world where cancer is irrelevant.
Five years ago, I attended my first Relay for Life event. I didn't know much about it or what to expect. I only knew that I needed to go, needed to find a way to make a difference. Just six months prior, both of my parents had been diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo extensive surgery and treatment. Before that.... Cancer was just a word. Something that didn't affect me or those I loved. It was just one of those bad things that happened to other people. And then.... BAM!! I found out real fast that it was a horrible disease that does not discriminate and does affect everybody - not just other people. During the many weeks of camping out in hospitals, I would find time to slip out and hit the road for a run to clear my mind. Best therapy ever.
During the many miles that followed I stopped asking "Why?" and started asking "What can I do to make a difference?" Somehow I came up with the idea to run a 50 miler and carry an Honor Scroll bearing the names of those that have battled the beast and, hopefully, raise some money to donate. I had been running for a few years and my running resume' included a few marathons and a 50k so it seemed reasonable to think that I might be able to cover 50 miles. I also knew that we had an event in Ozark County each year that had something to do with raising funds to fight cancer... just wasn't sure exactly what it was or if I could be a part of it. I reached out to a friend and she immediately signed me up on her team and helped with the logistics of fundraising.
The first Honor Scroll run was a great success, raising over $1,000 for the American Cancer Society and the Relay for Life. I somehow managed to navigate myself across the rough terrain of the Ouachita 50 miler in Little Rock, AR without completely falling apart. Looking back, it was probably the best day of running I've ever had and it completely opened my eyes to a new world. We can make a difference. We don't have to just sit back and let cancer win. If enough people do care and band together- we can win. I carried these thoughts into the Relay for Life that June.
I showed up at my first RFL with some extra shoes and a pink tutu in my bag. Why a pink tutu? Because somebody had pledged $100 if I wore it for one hour during the night while running around the track. I was NOT going to say no to a nice donation no matter how embarrassing. Believe me, it WAS embarrassing. For those of you that have seen the pink tutu at Dogwood Canyon the past few years - you now know how and why it all started. My plan was to run all night, for 12 hours, around our old high school track. Of course, you can't really run 12 hours at a RFL event due to ceremonies but I managed to get around 10 hours and 56 miles of running while raising a few more dollars for the ACS. I was a little surprised that there weren't really many runners at the event. A lot of people were walking, which is awesome, but I had the idea that there would be more runners. Obviously, I had a lot to learn about what exactly the Relay for Life was all about.
Over the next few years I was on a team but really not a part of the team. They were great fundraisers and really knew the ins and outs of Relay but I kind of did my own thing all year and just showed up and ran. I feel very lucky that they brought me into the fold and generously helped me understand how things worked. Last year, I decided to start an Idiots Running Club team and see if we could get more people involved. It was a great experience and several runners jumped in to help out. We raised $8,800 and "won" Rookie Team of the Year honors.
There is a huge difference between just showing up with a pair of shoes and actually being the Captain of a team. For me, the biggest and toughest adjustment is the amount of mileage I am able to run. This year I ran 27 miles.... less than half of the first years total. That's been the toughest part for me to digest but when I look around and see so many people actually RUNNING during the event, I know it's okay. Runners from all over the area (and around the country in a virtual sense) have joined the team and logged several miles. At this year's Relay on June 13th and 14th, fellow Idiot, Derek Glos made the trip to our little town and put in 36 miles to earn the top spot for most laps. Our team combined for over 160 miles of running throughout the night. That's 640 + laps around a high school track. That's a LOT of laps.
This year, the Idiots Running Club team raised close to $11,000 total through the combined fundraising efforts of many runners during the year. For us, this year's Relay for Life actually started last October with several Idiots donning pink shirts for the Dogwood Canyon events. Next up was the Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler in February where pledges of 10 cents per mile were collected. Shirts, drinking glasses and ornamental flowers were sold during the spring months. Everything wrapped up with personal donations and pledges for laps during the Relay for Life.
Runners are a special (by that I mean "weird") bunch of people. They are used to working hard and dedicating themselves to training for personal goals, PR's, qualifying times and trophies but this event does not offer those same rewards. It is not a race or competition. It is not about personal gain or goals. It takes a lot of time to put together a fundraiser and between work, kids, training and all of life's responsibilities there isn't much time left for stuff like this. And, to be honest, it really doesn't make a ton of sense to run several miles during a humid June night on an old asphalt track. I am so proud and thankful to be a small part of a running community that bands together with that same dedication to make a real difference. Not for medals, trophies, buckles or Boston Qualifying times just the knowledge that they are a part of something much bigger than any of those rewards.
Everybody that participates in the Relay for Life has a special place in my heart. Obviously, it takes much more than one small team of runners to truly make a difference. The Idiots Running Club team was a tiny part of a huge effort in Ozark County this year. The grand total raised was over $70,000. It always blows my mind that a county made up of tiny towns that nobody has ever heard of can come together and pull this event off with such success. People are generous and hard work always pays off. I am very proud and fortunate to be a part of the Relay for Life. I strongly urge anybody that hasn't participated to get involved. For everybody that has been involved in one of these life changing events - Thank you.