GREENFIELD — There was a moment during the 2015 Greenfield Relay for Life that organizer Enos Dotson won’t soon forget.
As walkers took to the track for the opening lap, led by cancer survivors, the skies opened. And, when most would have rushed for shelter, those the event honors each year kept right on walking.
It was one of those poignant moments organizers of the annual cancer awareness fundraiser say make the hard work worth it. With about a month left in the 2015 fundraising season and more than $100,000 in the bank so far, organizers are looking back at the successes of Hancock County’s two Relay for Life events and making a final push for donations that will aid in the fight against cancer.
That fight is on full display every year during the relays, 24-hour walk-a-thons that celebrate those who have won their battles and raise money and awareness for those still fighting.
Dotson, an American Cancer Society employee who helps coordinate both Hancock County events, thinks back on that opening lap — with survivors leading the charge through what he described as “monsoon rains” — and is inspired.
“If you think about it, their cancer journey was probably much more difficult than walking in a heavy rain,” Dotson said.
The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life events take place in more than 20 countries across the globe each year. Donations are used to fund cancer research, and nearly $5 billion has been raised since the relay program started in 1985, organizers said.
Relay committee members in Greenfield and at Mt. Vernon High School said they were pleased with the turnouts at each event, despite rainy weather making an appearance.
And local organizers have much to be proud of, Dotson said; the $100,000 raised in Hancock County so far is significantly higher than what has been raised in other Central Indiana relay events.
“All of these communities are very giving in their fundraising efforts and continue to lead the east side in the war on cancer,” Dotson said.
The Mt. Vernon Relay for Life took place May 16 and 17, drawing more than 300 people from the Fortville and McCordsville area. Twenty-one teams brought in nearly $40,000, organizers said.
One of the highlights of the event was the Luminaria Ceremony, during which candles are lit in memory of those who succumbed to the disease, said organizer Jessica Leavell.
More than 200 people packed the track at Mt. Vernon Middle School for the ceremony, conducted just after sunset, making for a moving and memorable moment, Leavell said.
Greenfield’s relay, conducted June 12 and 13 at Greenfield-Central High School, brought more than 30 teams of walkers and made roughly $60,000 for the American Cancer Society.
Event leader Michelle Brown called the 2015 Relay humbling and well worth all the time and effort that went into planning it.
“Regardless of the amount of money raised, we bring families together to celebrate, remember and fight back for those that have been affected by this disease,” she said. “To see the mental and emotional hardships that people have during and after treatment, and to see them smile while enjoying the time spent at relay, is worth so much to us.”
Among the hundreds of participants was Julie Donley of Greenfield. Donley said her favorite part of the event is getting together with her family to share stories and memories of her mother, Vicki Gruell, who passed away in 2011 after battling cancer.
The Greenfield Relay for Life was important to her mother, Donley said; now, it’s important for her loved ones to continue that dedication to the cause.
“I don’t know anyone who hasn’t known someone affected by cancer, and fundraising is such an important part (of the battle),” Donley said. “(Relay for Life) is such an amazing event, and you have to be there the full 24 hours to really appreciate it.”
Funds for cancer research have never been more important, organizers said.
“People’s lives depend on our success, and we take our job to heart,” Brown said. “We are very grateful for our community’s support thus far. We couldn’t put this event together without that support.”
Fundraising will continue online until Aug. 31.