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Taking a lap for life
Cancer didnt stop 700 brothers and sisters who begin Relay for Life walk
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Cancer survivors open the 2010 Relay for Life at Road Atlanta on Friday with the traditional Survivors Lap. - photo by Tom Reed

In the dimming light, they proudly stood shoulder to shoulder.

While their exterior appearances tricked the eye into believing that they were too different to be related, in reality they were sisters and brothers.

Their bond wasn’t one of blood, but of deed — each one of the nearly 700 people beat cancer.

As is tradition, the 2010 Gainesville-Hall County Relay for Life began Friday with a survivor’s lap.

“I’ve been coming to Relay for Life for many, many years,” said Ann Summers, a Gainesville resident and 17-year survivor.

“It’s a fun night, but it’s also very inspirational.”

After the survivor’s took their first lap, their family members and the caregivers of cancer patients that have passed away were invited to join them.

“I’m here because of my daughter,” said Gennell O’Kelley, a Gainesville resident and Summers’ mother.

“I’m here for hope. I’m here for one more birthday.”

The theme for this year’s race, which raises money for the American Cancer Society, was “More steps, more hope and more birthdays.”

With music blasting and games being played, the atmosphere was as festive as any birthday party. And since every birthday party needs a cake, one of the 121 relay teams made sure there was plenty on hand.

As has become their tradition, the Phoenix Society, a Gainesville women’s club, brought in six 16 by 20 cookie cakes.

“They’re from the American Cookie Company. My mom manages a store and they donate them to us every year,” said Becky English, a society member.

“After she lays them all out and decorates them, we sell the slices (to raise money for relay). They usually don’t last too long after we slice them.”

With so much cake to decorate, you’d think it would take a whole afternoon, but with a deft hand and piping bags of colorful icing, it only took Angie Jahnke 30 minutes.

With the weather cooperating, completing the task was a piece of cake, she says.

“Sometimes, we’ve had to deal with rain — that makes the process more difficult,” Jahnke said.

“This year, it was easy.”

Each of the relay teams took the opportunity to sell various wares and edible treats to help raise additional money, which would be added to the grand total. There was everything from a dunking booth to gift cards. And the food offerings ran the gamut from fresh-squeezed lemonade to fried fish and pickles.

A group of hairstylists, with the team theme of “Bonding for a Cure,” came up with a unique idea — colorful, clip-in hair extensions.

“Since we all do hair, it just seemed like an easy thing to do,” said Tiffeny Wilhite of Salon Suites of America in Buford.

The other half of the crazy, hair team was from Cinderella’s Beauty Shop in Oakwood.

Everything in the booth wasn’t all fun and games.

“We also decided to make buttons with Brian Ernst’s picture,” said Tammy Smallwood of Cinderella’s. “We wanted to find a way to honor him.”

The tribute, with proceeds benefitting cancer research, was a fitting one. The 19-year-old Ernst, a West Hall High School graduate, lost his battle with cancer in March.

Last year, there were a few traffic and parking issues at the event, but Relay organizers were optimistic as the crowds spilled in Friday afternoon.

“Road Atlanta has really been wonderful and accommodating. Neither they, nor us, expected so many people to show up last year, but this year it seems like we got a better control on things,” said Rose Reynolds, relay committee chairwoman.

“We still have some tweaking to do, but things seem to be going a lot smoother.”

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