Relay for Life: A challenge and a mission

116 teams at overnight event work all year to raise money for the fight against cancer

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

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photoCandlelit bags (luminarias) line the Relay for Life track Sunday. Each bag is in memory of a person whose life was lost to cancer or in honor of a survivor.

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More than 1,100 people hit the Columbia River High School track over the weekend for the 25th edition of the Relay for Life of Vancouver.

"It was phenomenal," event Chair Jule Webster said of the 24-hour event. She said the walk raised more than $224,800 in the effort to fight cancer.

There were 116 teams and Webster was a member of the team from Riverview Community Bank, where she is a senior vice president for operations and systems.

The event no longer relies on pledges, but teams host fundraisers all year long, from garage sales to luncheons to cupcake wars.

For some, the walk is a challenge and a mission.

"I finished with 42 1/4 miles, that's what -- 169 laps," said Tyler Schroeder, 25, of Bonney Lake. His family joined the Helmold family of La Center. With friends, there were 28 on the team, which was dubbed Cartwheelers for a Cure.

Schroeder said he was on the track about 21 of the 24 hours. He said he was walking to honor his cousin, Ashley Helmold, 15, who he said is a cancer survivor.

"My mom (Karen Schroeder) is also a breast cancer survivor," he said.

"I just think it's cool that everybody gets together," Schroeder said. "I like being able to help people who can't help themselves."

Asked what his team raised, he said, "It was over $5,000; we got a gold rating."

Lillian La Fond, 66, a lifelong resident of Vancouver and a caregiver, put in 4 1/2 miles.

"I was up all night," she said, her voice hoarse. "I had such a good time. I can't wait for next year."

"My daughter and my granddaughter and my niece all have had cancer and survived. My granddaughter had it when she was 2 and 4. And my daughter survived after four months of chemo for liver cancer. They all walked with me, right alongside."

The event held to tradition, having cancer survivors take the first lap on Saturday morning.

"We were able to have Dr. Gordy Klatt of Tacoma at opening ceremonies, and he is a cancer survivor himself," Webster, the event chair, said. Klatt is the founder of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, starting the effort in 1985.

Webster said her 24-member committee was also proud to have Pat Flynn at the relay. "She is known affectionately as the 'mother of the relay.'" Webster said.

Any downside?

For those who stayed overnight, "It was cold and windy," Webster said.

She said the 26th edition of the relay will be back again next year at Columbia River High, just as it has been for a quarter of a century.


Dave Kern: 360-735-4534 or dave.kern@columbian.com.