MARCO ISLAND — As the Survivors’ Lap got under way to kick off the 2013 American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life at noon Saturday, the scene could have been a promo for the movie “The Color Purple.” The cancer survivors wore purple T-shirts as a badge of honor, and they came in all sizes and ages, from 9 “and a half”-year-old Hannah Adams to ladies who were — well, considerably older.
The host of purple shirts and the attendant caregivers pointed out that, as survivor co-chair Judy Mayo said before the relay’s start, “cancer touches everybody.” There are few people who have not had a family member or close friend stricken by the disease, so everyone can understand the urgent need to fight the dreaded disease in all its forms.
Carrying the ceremonial banner with Hannah, survivors Lisa Meurgue, along with Marva Sutt who also sang the national anthem at the opening ceremonies, circled the field at the Marco Island Charter Middle School field. After the first lap, the survivors were joined by caregivers for the second lap, as “We Are the Champions” played over the sound system.
This year, the Marco ACS took the “fight against cancer” theme to a new level, particularly the team from the Marriott Marci Island Beach Resort. They produced cutouts of famed boxers with slogans for each, such as “Mohammed Ali knocks out colon cancer,” “Joe Frazier gives pancreatic cancer a hook,” and “George Foreman sends leukemia to the ropes.” Mike Tyson was also represented, but somehow they refrained from using “Mike Tyson takes a bite out of cancer.” Ben Batcher picked up on the pugilistic theme, walking around the circuit wearing bright red boxing gloves. “Fight like a girl,” urged Jan Harrison’s T-shirt.
The Marriott seemingly had its entire executive team out at the relay, from General Manager Rick Medwedeff, who is on the Marco ACS board, to Resident Manager Mike Tighe and Sales and Marketing Director Bob Pfeffer. Asked who was left to run the hotel, Medwedeff said this showed the depth of talent and managerial expertise at all levels of the Marriott staff.
Holding the event at MICMS marked a departure for the Relay for Life, which has been held along the beach for years. ACS executive director Lisa Honig said the move had been suggested by numerous participants, with the lengthy access route, sand blowing and the difficulty of walking on the beach cited by many survivors.
“We want to involve more people, and have a carnival atmosphere,” said Honig. The beach would have felt good on Saturday afternoon, particularly the chance to cool off with a quick dip, as the morning’s clouds and raindrops gave way to what Honig said was the hottest day of the year so far.
After the survivor and caregiver laps, those groups headed inside to the school’s air-conditioned dining room, for the survivors’ luncheon. Honig’s husband, city councilor Larry Honig, a prostate cancer survivor, sat talking with Monte Lazarus, a colon cancer survivor. Shane Totten, a 20-year leukemia survivor, ate with his family, and then went out and took the stage as part of the musical entertainment lineup.
Additional acts included local bands No Exceptions and Greenview, and at 6 p.m., headliners One Night Rodeo played their set. The relay goes on all night, with at least some teams walking continually until 6 Sunday morning, so there were additional activities, including the lighting of the luminaria at 9 p.m. and an art auction featuring paintings donated by well-known Island artists.
Relay for Life chairman Raul Medina of SunTrust Bank announced at the opening ceremonies that last year, the Marco relay raised $216,000, sixth in the state of Florida, and he was looking to move into the top five. In 2012, Relay For Life events across Florida raised more than $20 million to help cancer patients and their families in local communities and to fund lifesaving cancer research.
Sunday evening, Honig said they had met their goals and were well over the $200,000 mark, although she did not yet have a final tally. “We got a couple big donations yesterday,” she said. Once again the Hideaway Beach team topped the fundraising, with the Marriott and a few others well up in five figures.
To make your own contribution, call 239-642-8800 or email Lisa.firstname.lastname@example.org.