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Relay for Life participants march to help cancer research
Roughly 16,000 people attended the event
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Cancer survivors begin the Survivors Lap around the Relay for Life track Friday evening at Road Atlanta. - photo by Tom Reed

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade for cancer research - or barbecue, oil changes or race car rides for that matter.

Local businesses came out in full force at the 18th annual Hall County Relay for Life march Friday evening, each lending their unique talents to the search for a cure.

Road Atlanta and many other North Georgia businesses used a little creativity, setting up booths to raise money for cancer research.

"We've been out here all day," Stanley Stephens from Sweet Butts BBQ said. "(Barbecue) is what we do. It's what we enjoy doing."

Other booths sold homemade scarfs, CDs, video games and various toys.

Joe Roark at the Milton Martin Honda booth said this was the eighth year they operated a spinning wheel, selling chances to win prizes like oil changes and MP3 players.

United Community Bank had 69 participants who raised over $50,000 through various fundraising efforts, like selling mulligans at a golf tournament.

Organizer of their efforts, Tricia Atkins has raised money at marches for many years, but the event took on a whole new meaning when she was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.

"(Atkins has) always been involved," friend Debbie Dale said. "But it made it even more special this year."

Even the venue hosting the event was an example of a local business helping in whatever way they could.

For the third straight year, Road Atlanta opened its track to the march free of charge.

"We have this wonderful facility in the county," Road Atlanta Vice President Joey Green said. "And we love to give back to the county. So this is one way for us to do it."

The march drew a crowd of roughly 16,000, all there to honor those lost to cancer and others who are still fighting it.

Before the event began, Hall County Relay for Life teams had already raised $350,000 for the American Cancer Society's cancer research and patient programs, more money than ever before the major spring event.

Relay co-chairwoman Gail Schneider said the donations are "a testament to those who are continuing to fight this disease. Especially with the economy (still recovering), it's amazing."

The event got under way in a fashion appropriate for the venue, as a Road Atlanta representative announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines."

Instead of a pace car, the 700 cancer survivors in attendance were led through the first lap by the West Hall High School marching band.

They were later joined by caregivers and finally, teammates.

As the festivities continue throughout the night, one member from each team was to walk the track until 7 this morning.

"It's jam-packed with things that are family friendly and keep everybody moving all night," said Eliza Baker, community manager for the American Cancer Society. "... Cancer never sleeps, and neither to we as we celebrate and remember, and fight back against the disease."

For those unable to attend, Relay for Life still is accepting donations. The organization hopes to raise $450,000 by Aug. 31, when the relay year ends.

"We don't look for a lot of deep pockets, we just look for a lot of pockets," Baker said. "You don't know which five dollars with be the five dollars that ultimately finds the cure for cancer."

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