By Vicki Adame
"This year marks the 21st year for the Bakerfield Relay for Life," said Sylvia Cariker, media chair for the Bakersfield Relay for Life and herself, a 22-year cancer survivor.
Originally, the event began in Tacoma, Washington as the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer. As with most things, the Relay began with one person, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Tacoma. He decided to combine raising money for his local cancer society with running marathons. He embarked on his first fundraising effort in May 1985 by running for 24-hours around the track at the University of Puget Sound. During his run, friends paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him. When all was said and done, he had run more than 83 miles and raised $27,000 in the fight against cancer.
As the doctor ran, he thought of ways others could participate. The following year, 19 teams took part in the event and raised $33,000.
Today, Relay for Life is celebrated in communities around the world, and Bakersfield is one of the leading Relay for Life events in California. Organizers say Relay for Life is not only a way to raise money in the fight against cancer, but is also meant to be a way to celebrate the lives of those who battled cancer and remember those who have been lost to this disease.
Although each Relay is different and unique to its community, there are certain traditions that are celebrated at every event, and Ba- kersfield is no exception.
The Survivors Lap
Each Relay begins with a Survivors Lap where survivors are invited to circle the track together and celebrate their victories over cancer. “We recruit our survivors months in advance, even inviting them to a special Survivor’s Reception,” Cariker said, adding this year’s reception was held on April 12. “The lap begins with much fanfare and the walk around the track is incredible. I’m a 22-year cancer survivor myself and the outpouring of support and love from the folks around the track is incredible.”
The Luminaria Ceremony
"This takes place after dark and honors both cancer survivors and patients who have lost their battle with the disease. Their names are inscribed on bags, which are filled with sand, and a candle is placed inside. Then Luminarias are placed around the track. The evening in- cludes music and local survivors sharing their stories," Cariker said. She continues to say, "A suggested dona- tion of $15 is requested for a Luminaria. And the only information needed is the person’s name and their status: survivor or not." Luminarias can be purchased from any team member or by calling 327-7827 and can even be purchased on the day of the Relay.
The Fight Back Ceremony
At this ceremony every person makes a commitment to save lives by pledging to fight against cancer. The commitment can be anything from pledging to get regular screenings or quit smoking.
As of March 24th, the Bakersfield Relay for Life has 4,856 participants with 362 teams taking part this year and has raised $406,493, according to the information on their website.