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West Plains Relay for Life aims for growth, inspiration in new location

Cheney Free Press of Cheney, Washington

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The venue may have changed, but the attitude of the West Plains Relay for Life remains the same.

According to event chair Peter Baltes, this year's relay will continue to promote awareness of the impact of cancer in the community as well as fight to find a cure through fund-raising.

"Unfortunately all of us are going to deal with cancer at one point in our lives, either directly or indirectly. It's a big issue," he said. "We've got a lot of chances to grow the event and involve more of the community."

The relay is taking one of those chances by moving the location of the event. This year, cancer survivors, caregivers and supporters of the cause will spend the overnight hours between May 20 and 21 walking and running around the track at Cheney High School instead of the traditional location at Eastern Washington University's stadium. With the installation of artificial turf at Roos Field, new restrictions tent stakes, food, beverages and certain types of footwear are no longer allowed on the field made the location unsuitable for the relay.

Baltes said the relay flourished in its first 10 years at EWU, and he expressed gratitude for the university's generosity in allowing the use

of its facilities for the start but he said the Cheney High bchool location offers new possibilities.

"Cheney High School gives us a lot more opportunity to grow, because we're not confined to the football field," he said. "We can use the field and the grass area outside the track. We've got more room to put teams and stuff so that makes this location a really nice one for us."

Relay participants will be able to use some of the facilities at the school and the cafeteria will be employed for the annual survivor's dinner to kick off the event May 20. Baltes also said he hoped the new location would increase awareness and participation from Cheney citizens to match the enthusiasm of EWU students and staff who traditionally make up a bulk of the participants.

The relay is aiming for 65 teams this year, with a fundraising goal of $55,000. Many teams form around a cancer survivor or in memory of someone lost to the disease, but Baltes said other teams form simply because people understand the impact cancer has on the community.

Baltes lost his father to cancer and has several family members who have been diagnosed. He said he participates in Relay for Life in honor of those people, but also to work for a better future.

"I'm not only walking for dad and my aunts and uncle, but I'm Relaying for myself and my brothers and sisters so we don't get cancer, because the more money we raise, the better chance of finding cures or preventative treatments," he said.

As in years past, the West Plains Relay will have several signature events, starting with a 6 p.m. survivors' lap and subsequent survivors' dinner, which will be donated by local restaurants Willow Springs and Immix. The survivors' lap is the first lap of the 15-hour relay, in which survivors walk a lap together as team members cheer them on.

Survivor coordinator Bonnie Alvy said that first lap brings up a lot of emotions for cancer survivors who have struggled with the disease.

"As a survivor, when I walk around on the survivors lap and there are people there rooting for you, it's very humbling" she said. "It's just overwhelming, the joy that you feel for all the people coming, working hard and raising money for the cause."

Following the survivors' lap,

teams will continue their relays as the night unfolds. Then, usually around 10 p.m., the luminaria ceremony takes place. Family members and friends honor loved ones lost to cancer as well as those who have survived by lighting candles inside small paper bags and placing them around the track. The electric lights go out and teams walk by the candlelight for about an hour, Baltes said.

"That's a sobering time," he said.

"You'll see people sitting at their bag during that whole time. They don't move; they don't talk. There's not a lot of talking going on because it's a time for everybody to remember those people that they've lost."

Baltes said the relay is also about celebratingcelebrating the courage of survivors, the strides made in fundraising and the research the funds would go to support. The rest of the night will be spent with a variety of activities, from a cake walk to karaoke, to keep participants engaged while they continue logging laps on the track.

The Relay for Life is the signature fundraising event for the American Cancer Society, which helps support cancer patients in treatment as well as backing research to fight the disease. Baltes said the majority of funds raised at the West Plains Relay for Life stayed in the region, going toward research at state universities as well as support for patients.

"(The money) does stay-here. We fund research programs at WSU and University of Washington. There's quite a bit going on there," he said. "It's also used for patient services, so it helps those people that are in the outlying areas offset some of their expense."

For more information, registration or to make a donation, visit

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© 2011 Cheney Free Press Cheney, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from DAS.

Original Publication Date: May 5, 2011

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