Estimated 3,000 show up to support Relay for Life

Luminaries line the walking path during 10th annual Curry County Relay for Life Friday at Ned Houk Park. More than $60,000 has been raised to date through the Relay to help fund cancer research, organizers said. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Ryn Gargulinski: CNJ staff writer

The war in Clovis began Friday at 1800 hours. Instead of gunshots and grenades, however, singing and dancing, feasting and laughter were the weapons of choice in an effort to stamp out cancer.

Held over a 21-hour period spanning Friday and Saturday at Ned Houk Park, the 10th annual Curry County Relay for Life drew more than 75 teams.

More than $60,000 has been raised to date through Curry County Relay for Life to help fund cancer research, organizers said.

“We always go to war to fight the bad guys,” said Air Force member Christopher Davis, who attended with his wife and small child. “This is a war fighting for a positive cause.”

Chairpersons of the event estimated nearly 3,000 people showed up — in campers, on lawn chairs, and in walking shoes — to offer their support.

“I was amazed at the number of people I knew who were in the survivor lap,” said Bill Victor, a cancer survivor from Portales, who felt himself “probably more fortunate than anybody else” that his cancer had been caught in the early stages and promptly treated.

“I thought if I were ever diagnosed with cancer I’d be scared,” Victor said. “Instead I just said ‘Let’s do the operation.’”

Clovis resident Marlene Vela said the first thing she thought when she was diagnosed with cancer at age 19 was, “Who is going to raise my daughter?” Thankfully, 29 years later, this La Casa Health Clinic worker said, “I was able to raise her myself.”

Vela was part of the Charlie’s Angels team that won Best Campsite, and has a long history of cancer in her clan. Grandfather Charlie, for whom the team was named, succumbed to the disease, as did her great grandfather, whose cowboy boots were propped against their sunflower and cow décor that helped them clinch the campsite prize.

In addition to survivors, friends, family members — and even a biker from Florida — poured out across the park for the two-day event. Motorcyclist Tony Zepeda, who said many people in his life were touched by cancer, rode from south Florida to Clovis for the fun of it. When he dropped by High Plains Harley Davidson and happened to notice a flyer for this year’s “Angels for Sarah” biker tribute in the Relay, he signed up.

“I just like to ride,” Zepeda said, “and what a great cause to do it for.”

When honorary co-chairperson of the relay, Sarah Zufelt, was unable to attend the event due to chemotherapy treatment, the Harley pack rode by her house and then walked the lap in her honor.

Mark and Kathy Merrill took to golfing for the cause. Parents of a son who survived cancer and close to a youngster they met at a Ronald McDonald House who did not, the Merrills were at their fifth Clovis Relay. Part of the Chemo Conquistador team, they traveled from Lubbock with a neon green sign in honor of “Little Vic,” the boy who died, and a putting green where they sold five putts for $1. Their efforts from the golf and other donations netted $242, they said.

But the event was about much more than raising money, according to the youngest team captain, 11-year-old Kye Ellen Skelton. She said it’s about raising awareness.
“It’s not that people don’t care,” Skelton said, “It’s just they don’t know how many are struggling and how much cancer is killing people.”

Skelton, who raked in more than $1,000 in corporate donations selling luminaries and cookie dough, said when people asked why they should donate to the cause, she would tell them: “For the health of it.”

Event chairperson Kay Prater added the Relay was also about endurance. “The highlight of the event was that everybody stayed despite the weather,” Prater said. She said walkers were on the track all night, even in the wind.

“We ask that at least one member of each team is walking the track at all times during the event,” Prater said, adding, “because cancer never sleeps.”

Team awards:
• Early bird team: Starlight Trekkers
• Best campsite: Charlie’s Angels
• Best banner: Cannon Spouses
• Most spirited team: Cannon AFB EMS/Armament Warriors
• Biggest team: ENMRSH with 163 members

Top fund-raisers:
• Plains Regional Medical Center — $11,225.24
• ENMRSH — $7,562.53

Donations:
• Estimated total raised by Saturday morning (including online): $60,000

Donations are still being accepted:
• Online: www.cancer.org/relayonline and enter Clovis zip code
• By mail: American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 1856, Clovis, NM 88101