Relay for Life Raises $71K

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Participants walk a final lap around the track at Newport Harbor High School during the closing ceremony of the Newport Beach Relay for Life event on Sunday. Photo by Sara Hall

People walked, ran and skipped their way to $71,463 in the fight for cancer over the weekend.

The American Cancer Society’s 11th Annual Relay for Life of Newport Beach was held Saturday through Sunday at Newport Harbor High School.

“Relay for Life is a great community event,” said the chair of the Orange County Regional Council for the American Cancer Society, Grant Freeman, who himself is a 17-year survivor. “It brings together people from all backgrounds … Because cancer touches everybody.”

There were a few less teams than in the past, a total of 29 participated, but it didn’t affect the spirit or enthusiasm for the event, said event chair, Peggy Fort.

“The event went really well,” Fort said. “We are really excited about the turnout.”

There was a big opening ceremony that included an introduction by Newport Beach Mayor Nancy Gardner. Other opening ceremony speakers included Steve Bromberg and Pamela Curry, both as honorary survivors, and Dr. Louis Vandermolen, an oncologist, Dr. Lisa Guerra, and Dr. Greg Angstreich, a medical oncologist, all at Hoag Hospital, among others.

A rally in support of Prop. 29 was also held on the field during Saturday afternoon. Participants waved signs and spoke about the issue.

Saturday evening, the luminaria event was once again a big hit, with a group of about 100 people attending. Candles were passed around and each one lit before the reading of the names and a lap around the track with the decorated bags glowing and lighting the way. On the grandstands, glowing luminaria bags spelled out “Hope” and “Cure.”

At least one member of each team was walking the track during the entire 24-hours of the relay. A select few walked non-stop.

Awards were passed out during the closing ceremony on Sunday morning.

From left, Dr. Phil Newberg, Dylan Cotton, winner of the "Golden Shoe" trophy and the Dr. Phil Perseverance Award, and Relay for Life event chair Peggy Fort pose for a photo during the closing ceremony. Cotton ran a total of 45 miles (or 180 laps) during the 24-hour relay. Photo by Sara Hall

For the third consecutive year, Dylan Cotton won the Golden Shoe trophy, this year running 45 miles in 180 laps.

“This is an incredible situation and an incredible achievement,” said Phil Newberg, known to most as Dr. Phil, a relay board member and longtime active participant in the walk.

“You’ve inspired us all,” Fort added.

Kelli Hicks earned the Golden Shoe award for the women’s division after running about 32.5 miles.

The top individual fundraiser was Scott Peterson with $5,824. Peterson’s team, the Impac-Loan Rangers, was also the top team this year, raising a total of $8,416.

Also walking laps to help fight cancer was the Trek 4 Roz, Pat, & Friends team of about 30 people, including the family of Pam Smith, a Corona del Mar resident and community leader who helped organize the Newport Beach relay more than a decade ago and later died of cancer.

Team captain Haley Smith, 16, a Newport Harbor High School student, said it’s a big family tradition ever since her grandmother, Pat Smith, started.

“We do it for her,” she said.

Madison Smith, 11, said she has been walking in the relay practically since her first steps, and before that her parents pushed her in strollers.

It’s a fun family event, Haley Smith said. It’s great to help bring the community together too, she added.

Gwen Blankenship, a seventh grade science teacher at Ensign, heard about the relay when a student told her about it a few years ago. She got about 16 students interested and the Ensign Intermediate School Seabees team was born.

This year, 34 kids and five adults signed up for the team. To raise funds, the students went the grass-roots route by holding garage sales, bake sales, lemonade stands, collecting pennies and other change, going door-to-door, and more.

The Ensign team collected about $2,500.

The students also helped fill in the luminaria bags and other volunteer projects at the event.

“The main thing is, as I tell (the students), you’re doing something for other people,” Blankenship said. “I want them to learn that it’s more important to do things for other people than it is for yourself.”

Fort said she hopes more schools will become involved like Ensign, which has shown great leadership and support for Relay for Life, Newport Beach, she said.

“We’ve had such great support from the community,” Fort said. “We hope that new people come each year and that it continues to grow.”

Hundreds of luminaria bags lit the track during the night for the 24-hour Relay for Life at Newport Harbor High. Photo by Sara Hall
A nighttime candle ceremony was held in memory of loved ones lost to cancer. Photo by Eric Longabardi

The chairperson for Orange County Regional Council for the American Cancer Society, Grant Freeman, said the funds raised through Relay for Life help so many people in so many different ways, Freeman said, including information, support, transportation, services, outreach to underserved communities, and more.

For those people that can actually get out to the Relay and walk, Freeman recommends volunteering at the local office, get involved in making phone calls, or volunteering at other events.

“This is a good way to give back,” he said.

Another group that has helped and given a lot back over the years is the Newport Beach Fire Department, Fort said, they have been very involved.

Engineer Keith Hedenberg said it’s about his eighth year walking in the relay.

“We’ve all been touched by cancer somehow. Everyone I know, myself included and family, has known someone battling it,” Hedenberg said. “As a public servant, I want to get out here and give back to the community.”

Firefighters Matt Reis and Jeremiah Martin were also walking laps. All three, as well as several other members of the NBFD, were wearing full turnout gear as they walked.

“It’s just so prevalent nowadays… Everybody knows somebody affected by it,” Reis said. “So it’s nice to come out here and work for the people who have gone through that fight (now or) before. And it’s good to get out in the community and create some awareness and let people know we’re here to help them.”

Throughout the day the Fire for Life team walked in shifts, with about 15 total members, including NBFD family members. The firefighters also made s’mores Saturday night and pancakes Sunday morning.

“You don’t have to necessarily be a survivor yourself,” to walk in the relay, Reis said. “Just get out here to show community support, Newport is such a neat city, come out and support your neighbors and friends… It’s goodwill for a good cause.”

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