Relay for Life returns to Winter Park

Walk to beat cancer

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  • | 9:17 a.m. April 14, 2016
Photo: Courtesy of the American Cancer Society - The Relay for Life event in Winter Park's Central Park will be the first of its kind, with hopes of raising $35,000 to fight cancer.
Photo: Courtesy of the American Cancer Society - The Relay for Life event in Winter Park's Central Park will be the first of its kind, with hopes of raising $35,000 to fight cancer.
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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When hordes of people start circling Winter Park’s Central Park in unison on April 30, they’ll be doing more than trying to save people from cancer; they’ll be reviving the event itself.

Up until this year, the Winter Park/Baldwin Park Relay for Life was in a flux, trying to find a home and combat flagging participation. Now it’s staging a comeback, thanks to a plucky group of five organizers and an army of volunteers led by Linda Glenn.

The challenge of keeping the event together before was a combination of time and money, Glenn said. Local events — lasting as long as 24 hours — were intimidatingly long for some would-be volunteers, and sometimes they were bewilderingly close to each other and at the same time of year. Add in the factor of an area stretched thin by other charity commitments, and it made for a tough sell for people who were interested, but already over-committed.

“Everybody is passionate about something,” Glenn said. For her, it’s battling cancer. She’s hoping other people can show that passion coming up on April 30, when the event makes its big comeback at Winter Park’s Central Park West Meadow.

“There are so many ‘official’ walks and charity events in this area, it’s a challenge to get the right individuals and companies to volunteer, create teams, or sponsor when their time and resources are often committed to other charities,” volunteer Camri McCormick said. “Especially in an area like Winter Park and Baldwin Park, where companies are hit almost everyday to sponsor or participate in events.”

Trying to restart the event, Glenn didn’t realize the uphill battle event organizers would have. But for her and her friend, they both had good reasons to try.

It’s been five years since Glenn’s aunt died, and three years since she found out that her mother-in-law had cancer too. For McCormick, whose mother was taken by cancer in 2000, it’s a battle to stop that pain from spreading.

“I relay for my mom because I don’t want people to go through what we went through,” McCormick said.

McCormick remembers decorating her mother’s drinking cups in the hospital, adding some cheer to a dark moment. Her mom’s favorite design, a checkerboard, made her smile. For McCormick, she feels like she missed out on a whole other part of her life with her mother, when they weren’t just family, but friends.

“I lost my best friend before I got a chance to meet her,” McCormick said of her mother, who died when McCormick was 27. “My dad was positive that we’d be best friends. That part of my family is gone.”

Glenn remembers that last day she was with her aunt, holding her hand as she lay on her death bed.

“I made a promise to her that I’d do whatever I could to find a cure for cancer,” Glenn said.

Five years later she’s still fighting that battle, one that grew more intense when her mother-in-law collapsed while volunteering at a church mission helping the homeless. That week, doctors found a baseball-sized tumor in her intestines. Three days later she was having surgery. After years of her mother stalling on getting checked out, there was no time to wait.

Though her aunt Judy died from the disease, the lady Glenn calls “mom” would survive; the surgery was a success. But she couldn’t pay for the many tests that came afterward to make sure the cancer didn’t come back or reappear somewhere else. That’s where the American Cancer Society (ACS) came in, helping pay for those expensive tests and precautionary procedures.

With the ACS helping her mom’s fight, Glenn wanted to help the ACS.

But the process of resurrecting a major fundraiser from where it left off has proven a difficult one.

“We got so many noes,” Glenn said, mainly out of confusion about how the charity fights cancer. “A lot of people don’t know where the money goes.”

So their effort this time around is to let people know what Relay does, what the charity money pays for and, most importantly, to make it easier to get started.

For one, they’ve shortened the event to make it easier to get involved and less daunting for small teams of fundraisers. That’s a crucial component in Relay events: The more volunteers walk, the more money they raise to fight cancer. But many volunteers who wanted to get involved couldn’t stay for a full day, as events had been organized in the past.

“It used to be 18-hours or 24-hours long,” McCormick said. “That is a big commitment to get people to be away from home and walking a track for that many hours. Especially if you have a small team – that is a lot of walking to keep a team member on the track at all times. Now they can be as short as 6 hours.”

The events are usually held on a local high school running track, with participants circling for hours as games and events play out on the infield, and live entertainment keeps everybody motivated. There’s a special time for cancer survivors to walk the track together, cheered along as they go. And for those who didn’t make it, paper bag luminaries will dot the track at nightfall, carrying messages written to them in memory, letting them know the fight goes on.

The money, raised through volunteers signing up to raise money in the community, plus sponsorships from local businesses, goes to the American Cancer Society, which pays for research to fight the disease, helps lower the cost for cancer patients getting treatment, and funds a local camp for children battling cancer. For every $2,500 raised, a week of cancer-fighting research is paid for.

A month ahead of the event, they only had eight teams signed up and two sponsorships — much fewer than a typical Central Florida Relay event. With a lofty goal of raising $35,000 to fight cancer, and with only half a month to go before the event, organizers are hopeful to get more volunteers. As of this week they’ve raised $7,300, with a dozen teams and about 70 volunteers. But it’s not too late to join in, as they say a lot of Relayers show up on the day of the event.

“It’s a fun family day, but at the same time you’re fighting this nasty disease,” Glenn said.

Come that Saturday afternoon, she’s hoping for a turnout that makes Winter Park and Baldwin Park, and her aunt Judy, proud.

For McCormick, who’s been doing this for half a dozen years, she’ll be back again, still circling that path for the mother she lost and the friend she never got to know. Once a lap she’ll pass a tiny light glowing back at her, with a checkerboard drawn on it.

To sign up, volunteer, donate or sponsor this year's battle against cancer, visit


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