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Relay for Life to feature local survivor superheroes
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Relay for Life

What: Annual Hall County Relay for Life event

When: Tonight, 6 p.m.-midnight

Where: Road Atlanta, 5300 Winder Highway, Braselton

More info: 770-297-1176, or

Hall County superheroes will gather at Road Atlanta today for the county’s annual Relay for Life event, sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

The event, with the theme “Superheroes Fighting Cancer,” will feature more than 100 teams and thousands of area cancer survivors during its six-hour reign, beginning at 6 p.m.

“The teams will have games, some of them will have activities,” said event leader Rose Riddle. “Some sell food, and it’s some of the best food in the world out there.”

Currently, the Relay teams have raised $221,000 of the $430,000 goal.

“But with the economy the way it is, if we get to $400,000, we’re going to be doing excellent,” Riddle said. “We’re about halfway there, so that’s good.”

The funds raised go directly to the American Cancer Society’s many programs, including services delivered at local levels.

With the big push to meet the fundraising goal, Riddle said that the American Cancer Society deserves every penny.

“The main reason I do it is for preventive care,” she said. “I’ve seen so many things that the American Cancer Society does. They do the Hope Lodge where people can go and stay while the patient is getting treatment. We have wigs here that are free to the people who want a wig when they’re going through chemo.”

Riddle’s brother died from colon cancer.

“Because he didn’t go when he first started having symptoms, he died the next year,” she said. “That’s why I feel preventive care is so important.”

Longtime Relay volunteer Betty Gillespie is a breast cancer survivor from 1996.

“I went to the doctor for a checkup, and he sent me for a mammogram,” she said. “They called me back and told me I needed to come back and check some more.”

She was told she had cancer the Friday before Mother’s Day that year.

“I went back on Monday, and they called me on Tuesday and told me I needed to see a surgeon.”

Gillespie had a mastectomy by the end of May 1996, and then went through six months of chemotherapy. She has been cancer-free — and a Relay participant and volunteer — ever since.

“I just wanted to help people, and get them to understand and raise money so they can research and get rid of cancer,” she said. “If someone ever comes to Relay and watches the Survivor Walk, it’s just so emotional to see all of those survivors out there who have survived cancer, and they’re out there. It’s the research that has let them be out there.”

The event is a shortened length this year, from 6 p.m. until midnight.

“Not much money is made after midnight, and not many people stay after midnight,” Riddle explained, “so we’re trying to get people to come and stay for the closing ceremonies.”

Andrea Shoemaker, Gainesville community manager for the American Cancer Society, estimates around 15,000 people will attend. Despite the size of the group, parking should not be an issue.

“We have buses that will be running from the parking lots until the luminary lighting ceremony around 10,” she said, “and then taking people back, so really the buses will be running all night.”

She also said there is a special parking lot for survivors.

“We have a lot of volunteers that will be there, and parking is down to a science,” she laughed. “Everyone just come on out and have a good time.”

The opening ceremonies will begin between 6:15 and 6:30 p.m., she said, and will feature a few words by cancer survivors and caregivers, as well as the Survivors Lap, which will have Hall County cancer survivors making their victory lap around the track. Caregivers get special treatment, as well, with their own victory lap.

Students from C.W. Davis Middle School will sing the national anthem, with Flowery Branch High School students singing behind them.

Games and contests will take place throughout the evening, with the lighting of the luminaries in honor of or in memory of cancer survivors taking place around 10 p.m.

The last lap will begin at 11:30, with the closing ceremony immediately following.

“We are proud to host Hall County’s Relay for Life for the fifth consecutive year,” Road Atlanta Vice President Joey Greene said in an email. “This event is very important to our staff and the entire community. Without question, beating cancer is the biggest race of all, and we look forward to doing our part to help win that race.”

2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the American Cancer Society, with the Relay for Life fundraising events beginning in 1985. Since then, Relay events are worldwide, raising more than $4 billion to fight cancer. In Georgia this year, there are 157 Relay events.

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