Cancer survivors celebrated,
loved ones remembered
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – How do you begin to describe such a comprehensive event that has mobilized so many area citizens and generated such an outpouring of energy, compassion and love?
This is the challenge in capturing the 14th Annual Relay for Life of Fairfield, an overnight walk-a-thon that began at 7 p.m. Saturday and concluded at 7 a.m. Sunday morning at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. Over 2,000 people among 164 teams registered for the American Cancer Society (ACS) event, which raises funds for cancer research, advocacy and services. This year’s gathering had pulled in over $242,000 by mid-afternoon Saturday, and was on track to raise even more from various onsite activities being conducted by organizers and participants. Besides the infield carnival-like activities and the walking of teams around the track throughout the night, other events included a Luminaria Ceremony, Team Banner Lap, Fight Back Ceremony and even a morning yoga session.
“This is the most participants we’ve had to date,” said Jo Ann Olsen, on the registration committee. “The event has gotten larger every year. Each and every team has a set-up here for additional fundraising, which includes activities like rides, interactive games, cutting hair, selling bracelets and food, raffling items and more.”
A veteran of the Relay, Julie Ruggio said, “Joyce Flynn and I were among the first participants ever Fairfield’s Relay, which was held at Sacred Heart 14 years ago. There were 16 teams, about 100 people that first year, and we made about $40,000. It really got going about 10 years ago when the event incorporated the kids of then-Fairfield High School. They became part of the committee and are now committee chairs.”
Emcee Adam Parker provided opening remarks, noting that half a million people die from cancer each year, or 1,500 people per day. He added that, since the Relay began on a national level in 1985, 3.5 million people have participated.
Parker was followed by Fairfield soprano Lia Carter, who sang the national anthem, then ACS Staff Partner Shannon Murnane. “The Relay is now in over 21 countries with participants from camps, schools and companies,” she said. “The movement will continue to grow with your help spreading awareness, remembering survivors and saying we will not rest until we find a cure.”
Event co-chair Michele Cole then weighed in with statistics, in particular noting that a fundraising mark of $242,562 had thus far been raised, about which she said, “That means more lives saved.”
Cole was followed by fellow co-chair Cheryl Grabiace, who confirmed that this year’s theme is The Power of Purple, then former First Selectman Ken Flatto offered his thoughts. “This is a Fairfield event like no other,” he said. “It’s time to cure cancer for all time. What you’re doing to bond with your community and help neighbors and friends is so important. Positive thinking and helping people day by day is key.”
Personally affected by cancer, FLHS Music Director Kevin Cotellese shared his perspective. “I have involved my students every year,” he said. “Hope is what Relay for Life provides. I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma last year and my doctors assured me I would be here today. Their confidence gave me hope I would live. Your work will help advance research work. I feel lucky to have the support of friends and family.”
Finding the lighter side of his situation, Cotellese added, “In the ironies of life, Cancer is my sign. My name also begins with the letter C and everyone calls me Mr. C. And the organization I have been supporting for years is now supporting me. Our work is not finished but there is hope, and I’m standing here tonight as a sign of this hope.”
As moving as Cotellese’s remarks were those of Fairfielder Tom Brennan, whose 18-year-old son Ryan lost his battle with cancer Feb. 28, 2011. “I want to thank the town of Fairfield for all your love in support of my son. I ask that we dedicate our efforts to Ryan and all those battling cancer. Let’s remember Ryan’s words, ‘Just beat it.’”