BELPRE - Thousands of people braved thunderstorms and chilly temperatures to fill Civitan Park for the 20th annual Relay for Life of Washington County on Friday.
The late afternoon thunderstorm that struck the southern part of the Mid-Ohio Valley Friday let up and the sun broke through the clouds just in time for the event to begin before 7 p.m.
"It's nice the rain stopped so we can have the opening ceremonies," said Connie Grimes with the relay.
Adult survivor marshals Ginger McConnell and Matt Hill pose with junior survivor marshal Toby Bigelow prior to the opening ceremonies of the 20th annual Relay for Life of Washington County on Friday evening. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
For the first time in its 20-year history, the Relay for Life of Washington County separated the participating cancer survivors by how many years they had been cancer free during the first Survivors’ Lap on Friday evening. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
Youth volunteers with the Relay for Life of Washington County hold signs to show how long the survivors walking behind them have been cancer free during the opening Survivors’ Lap on Friday evening. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
Two-time cancer survivor Ginger McConnell and Matt Hill walk under the floral arch as the adult survivor marshals of the 20th annual Relay for Life of Washington County. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
Belpre Volunteer Fire Department’s tower one sits with the ladder fully open and the large American flag flying as members of the Fort Frye Marching Band stand under it in their rain gear before playing the Star Spangled Banner. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
The event began with a Survivors Dinner and moved through the evening and into the night with activities going on at all times.
The event is a way for former and current cancer patients to join with those who have lost a loved one or been affected by cancer in some way to work together, Grimes said.
"Those wearing the purple shirts are our heroes," she added.
Two-time cancer survivor Ginger McConnell served as one of the two adult survivor marshals with Matt Hill and junior survivor marshal Toby Bigelow.
"It is an honor for me to be a marshal," McConnell told the crowd.
After she warned the crowd she has "chemo brain" and had trouble keeping her thoughts in order, McConnell added her own take on the purple shirts worn by survivors.
"Those of you wearing purple shirts, you are an inspiration," she said. "You are an amazing club and I am honored to be a part of it."
Hill expressed his thanks, as many cancer patients have, to his family and friends, as those close to someone with cancer become a strong support as they go through treatments and have bad days.
"When somebody is diagnosed with cancer, it isn't just them, but their whole family and close friends," Hill said. "The support we cancer survivors get from those around us really makes all of the difference in the world."
During the luminaria service those who lost their battles with cancer, those still struggling and those who have won were honored with their names on luminaria bags along the walkway.
This is the second year for the reusable luminaria, sponsored by Cawley and Peoples, Leavitt's of Belpre and McClure-Schafer Lankford funeral homes.
Some of the participants are family, friends and neighbors who have dealt with cancer themselves. Their involvement is proof of the progress that has reduced death rates, but also improved the quality of life following cancer treatment.
Members of all 65 teams from various businesses, organizations, churches and families camped out at the park overnight and took turns walking and buying food and other items from team booths around the walking track.
With roughly $110,000 of the $183,000 goal already raised, it is unknown if the event will reach its goal, Grimes said.
"We have our fingers crossed and will give it our best shot to reach this year's goal," she added.
The funds raised enable the American Cancer Society to continue the fight against cancer through research, education, advocacy, and patient services.
The Relay continued through the night and into today's morning hours. It is scheduled to end at 11:45 a.m. today with closing ceremonies at Civitan Park.