Salmon Arm’s Relay for Life steps out Saturday

Cancer never sleeps, and neither will the 325 walkers who will give up a night’s rest to raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Salmon Arm Relay for Life organizer Jen Dies walks with  Haney Heritage Village general manager Susan Mackie along the path that will be used during this year’s relay at Haney.

Salmon Arm Relay for Life organizer Jen Dies walks with Haney Heritage Village general manager Susan Mackie along the path that will be used during this year’s relay at Haney.

Cancer never sleeps, and neither will the 325 walkers who will give up a night’s rest to raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society.

But Relay For Life goes far beyond raising funds for research and patient support.

The annual relay gives participants an opportunity to honour family and friends who are battling the disease, celebrate with survivors and pay tribute to those whose lives cancer has claimed.

This year, the 12-hour Relay For Life rocks out on a new path – on the beautiful grounds of Haney Heritage Village – at 7 p.m. Saturday June 2, with a victory lap led by bagpipers.

On hand will be honorary chair Brenda Kurtz, the woman who was responsible for bringing the event to Salmon Arm 10 years ago.

Victory lap walkers include survivors and their caregivers, who are greeted by enthusiastic applause in an event that spawns many emotional moments.

“All the other teams will fold in and we will acknowledge teams that have been involved for the 10 years,” says Jen Dies, co-ordinator of community giving for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Southern Interior, who notes this year’s theme is “Let’s rock it” and the team lap will appropriately feature Queen’s We Will Rock You.

At 7:45 all relayers will be invited to take part in a group “cha-cha dance slide” and Kelly and Blu Hopkins will get the live entertainment going at 8:15, followed through the night by City of Sparks, DOS, Lead Painted Toys and Lazy Ninja DJ – Alex.

The always-touching luminary ceremony takes place at 9:30, led, for the second year, by bagpipers.

Another innovation introduced last year will continue, with everyone asked to bring a non-perishable item for the food bank to weigh down the luminaries.

“It’s not so messy  (as the traditional sand) and it’s  win-win; we’re helping someone else in the community,” Dies says. “In the morning last year, air cadets gathered them up and the Salvation Army Food Bank got a pickup load of food.”

On the subject of food, the Mighty Half-Pints will be fuelling lagging walkers with coffee again this year, Jane’s Place will provide soup at 2 a.m. and members of the Save-On team will dress up as Flintstones characters and will serve barbecued hotdogs, smokies and Brontosaurus burgers.

“If it rocks, it’s in,” laughs Dies, referring to this year’s theme whose tag line is 10 years of success in the Shuswap.

And what a success it has been.

Not only has Salmon Arm traditionally raised more than larger centres such as Vernon and Kelowna, last year, this community was the highest fundraising community in the entire Southern Interior, bringing in a whopping $165,000 plus.

Over the 10-year history of the relay, this generous community has raised more than $1.3 million, money that goes to the cancer society, but comes back to Salmon Arm when needed.

“So Salmon Arm, we should be proud of all we do,” says Dies, noting the local unit is run by “wonderful, dedicated volunteers.”

“If our community raised $100,000 and it stayed in the community, wouldn’t it be a shame if we needed $400,000 and we only had $100,000 in the pot,” she says.

Local services include a lending library, women’s support group, and wigs and breast prostheses for patients dealing with the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatments.

The Emergency Aid Program provides financial assistance to cancer patients to help with accommodation, travel, and symptom control medication expenses while undergoing cancer treatment.

One-to-one peer support is available, as are accommodations in Kelowna and Vancouver and rides to treatments.

Back on the relay track, Dies says organizers are thrilled to be moving the event to Haney Heritage Village.

Relay participants will walk through the village, cross the bridge, past the fire station and circle back along the northern tree line, coming out in front of the main office.

Dies, who has organized the Salmon Arm event for four years as paid co-ordinator and volunteered two years previously, now looks after Vernon, Revelstoke and Merritt as well. She says there is still time for people to buy a luminary, donate to the relay, volunteer and register themselves or a team.

“We’re always looking for volunteers,” she says. “Set-up is huge and we start setting up the stage, tents, lights and marking campsites Wednesday and Thursday.

Anyone who wants to help in any way should phone 250-833-6831.