It won’t be a brawl, but several hundreds are expected to join in a fight at Wheatridge Middle School next weekend. They won’t be battling one another with fists, they’ll be taking it to cancer during the annual Santa Fe Trail Relay for Life.
The annual 12-hour marathon raises money for cancer research. It kicks off at 6 p.m. on July 10 with an opening ceremony. Cancer survivors will take some laps on the WMS track at 6:30 p.m. as other participants cheer and celebrate their victories over cancer.
“The opening ceremony is where you’re really celebrating the survivors and their caregivers and getting people pumped up,” Larry Loeffler, relay chair, said.
Then the walking begins. Teams will walk the track continuously for 12 hours from 6 p.m. on July 10 to 6 a.m., July 11.
Loeffler first attended a Relay for Life event about 15 years ago. A disc jockey by trade, he thought providing music during the fundraiser would essentially serve as advertising for him. Instead, Loeffler was hooked.
“It really struck a chord,” he said. “It’s hard to explain unless you experience it. When you go through the different ceremonies and think about what it’s all about.”
The Luminaria Ceremony grabs people, Loeffler said. During the ceremony, which will begin at 10 p.m. on July 10, participants remember those who have cancer and those who fought cancer in the past. Glowing luminaria dedicated to those who fought cancer light a path around the event. Throughout the relay, the names of those who died of cancer will be projected on screens.
“If you’ve ever had a close family member of friend you’ve lost to cancer, the ceremony helps give closure,” Loeffler said. “It makes a huge deal to you personally.”
Anyone who has cared for someone with cancer will take a lap at 10:30 p.m. Caregivers walk the lap with those they helped, when possible.
To date, there are 27 teams, comprised of 291 individuals set to participate in the event this weekend. To date, the teams have raised more than $51,000. Loeffler said the goal is to raise between $75,000 and $80,000 by event’s end.
Though several teams have hosted private events throughout the year to contribute, fundraising activities will continue through the event. There will be opportunities to buy food and a lip syncing contest will also raise money. People will purchase tickets that can be used to vote for the best lip sync contestants.
Loeffler said in the past, the Santa Fe Relay for Life event has raised more than $106,000.
When Loeffler heard that the goal for this year’s event was lower, he worried that the local organization was doing it wrong. Relay for Life events are held nationwide in collaboration with the American Cancer Society.
“It’s really kind of strange,” Loeffler said. “Relay totals have been crashing. It’s not just ours. It’s nationwide.”
The money raised locally, typically stays close to home. The ACS funds cancer research for a variety of cancers, including rarer types. It also funds things like Hope House, a place families can stay near hospitals as their loved ones fight cancer.
Everyone is invited to participate throughout the evening, even if they aren’t registered with a team.
“Please come out. Watch. See what happens,” Loeffler said. “…You can be entertained. You can be fed. The more people that understand what we do, the better. Most of the time, once people have experienced it, they’re in.”
The local event feels like a neighborhood or small community gathering, Loeffler said.
“The thing about Santa Fe Trail Relay for Life, it still has that hometown feeling,” Loeffler said. “Most people know each other.”
Festivities last throughout the night. In the early hours of July 11, 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., organizers fire up the crowd with a Fight Back Ceremony. By that time, participants are wanting to sleep.
“So it pumps everyone up and gets them focused on why we’re here,” Loeffler said.
At 6 a.m., the closing ceremony wraps up the event. Organizers announce the fundraising total for the year, and award the teams who raised the most. They also hand out awards for things like most spirit.
The event occurs rain or shine, though it could be moved inside if it rains. It will run from 6 p.m. on July 10 to 6 a.m. on July 11.