‘Wish upon a cure’: Marco’s #1-in-the-state Relay for Life happens Saturday at Mackle Park

Lance Shearer

For a small island, Marco punches above its weight class.

Two years in a row, Marco Island’s Relay for Life, the signature fundraising event held by the American Cancer Society, has raised more dollars to help fund fighting and curing cancer than any other Relay for Life in the state.

The Relay for Life returns this Saturday at Mackle Park, and organizers want to keep the streak going.

“Last year, our goal was $260,000, but when we were finished, we raised over three hundred thousand,” said Sue Olszak, senior development manager for the ACS. Like Marco Island vis-à-vis some of the other communities holding relays, the local fundraiser is bigger than it looks at a glance.

“We don’t have the biggest event, but we have incredibly generous donors,” said Cathy Nelson, Marco’s Relay for Life chair. “We’re able to raise a lot of money in a short time.”

Unlike most relays, the Marco event is not an all-night marathon, with teams circling a track through the wee hours of the morning. The Relay for Life kicks off at 2 p.m. with opening ceremonies, and runs until 9 p.m., allowing participants to do their bit and still be in bed at a civilized hour.

More:Photos: Imagination Ball, 2019

The abbreviated schedule works because much of the fundraising has been done beforehand. Teams including those from Hideaway Beach, and the “Shoot Down Kids’ Cancer” skeet shooting event organized by cancer survivor Gary Landis, have run fundraisers and locked in much of their financial support ahead of time.

And while Nelson didn’t want to focus on her own team, from the JW Marriott hotel, they have been the largest financial contributors to the effort.

For one longtime supporter, Marva Sutt, the fight against cancer takes on a new, very personal significance this year. A survivor herself, who beat Hodgkin’s disease in in 1981, and whose husband Jim is also a cancer survivor, Marva recently learned that daughter Lori France is dealing with metastatic breast cancer. Having had surgery once already, France is now scheduled for a mastectomy, and her mother will fly to Indianapolis at the beginning of April to be with her.

Last year, Marva Sutt personally raised $5,000 for the relay with a series of fundraisers, and this year, as she has before, will lead the singing of the National Anthem at the opening ceremonies. She will do it dressed as Minnie Mouse.

This year’s Relay for Life has a Disney theme, “When You Wish Upon a Cure,” and Sutt, never one to do things by half, sewed matching Mickey and Minnie outfits for herself and her husband. She also – although insisting “I’m no artist” – created a beanbag toss board featuring Mickey’s faithful dog Pluto and was prevailed upon to join Nelson and volunteer team leader Natalie DiSantis to pose with it during the last organizational meeting the relay’s steering committee held at Mackle Park on Tuesday.

Along with the opening ceremonies, highlights of the event on Saturday will include the Survivors’ Lap at 5 p.m., followed by the complimentary survivors’ and caregivers’ dinner inside the Mackle Park community center.

“It’s quite a potluck supper,” said Olszak. “Almost every restaurant on the island donates dishes.”

Then at 8:15 p.m., as light fades from the sky, the luminaria ceremony will see hundreds of candles lit to honor those fighting cancer, and commemorate those whose lives have been lost to the disease. The timing coincides with Earth Hour, a worldwide effort as people around the globe switch their lights off to highlight support for our planet.

Fitting perhaps for a relay, the Relay for Life has bounced around venues on the island, being held on the beach, at Marco Island Charter Middle School, previously at Mackle Park, then at Veterans’ Community Park, and now back to Mackle Park.

To make a contribution for Marco Island’s Relay for Life – and have it credited to the island’s total – go to the ACS Marco office at 583 Tallwood St., call 239-642-8800, or go online to www.cancer.org.