GREENFIELD — The heat rising off the track was no match for Sandy Griffith.
She has fought a life-threatening disease — fought hard and won. Griffith, a breast cancer survivor, had that victory in mind as she walked the Greenfield-Central Junior High track during Relay for Life.
Her life. The lives of friends, family. Of people she’ll never meet.
Cancer survivors, patients and the friends and family of both pounded the pavement from 4 p.m. Friday to 11 a.m. Saturday for the annual event despite some of the highest temperatures of the summer.
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The Relay for Life of Greenfield honored cancer survivors and those currently undergoing cancer treatment, and it remembered loved ones lost to cancer with more than 12 hours of 80’s-themed events. A group of more than 30 teams worked together the past nine months, raising more than $51,000 as of Saturday morning, said event chair Brooke Melton.
Griffith joined coworkers from the Greenfield Sam’s Club distribution center for the fifth year to walk lap after lap, long after the sun had set.
“It’s so emotional to see everyone, to see the support you have here is nice,” Griffith said. “If you’re a cancer survivor, you will always need that support.”
Relay for Life, an international event to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, was started 21 years ago by a Tacoma, Washington, doctor, Gordy Klatt. The event has raised more than $5 billion, which goes toward cancer research and other programs for cancer patients and survivors, like a retreat home, help with transportation, and Look Good, Feel Better, a program that helps female cancer patients with their self-image.
Cancer survivors often point to their loved ones when talking about what helped them make it through.
Saturday, Griffith’s teammate, Brian Fields, pointed to the determination of Griffith and cancer survivors like her as the uplifting ones.
“They’re never going to stop fighting, and it’s very touching to see,” Fields said. “I love coming out here for this.”
Many of the teams’ names reflected the names of patients they stayed up all night to honor.
Pennies for Penny, a team made up of members and leaders from the Greenfield-Central band department, honored Penny Hicks, who last month died after a long battle with brain cancer.
Chris Wing, the team leader and also the high school band director, said for this first year, he set a goal of getting 100,000 pennies for Penny — or $1,000 — and the team exceeded that goal, raising about $1,500.
Wing remembers Hicks fondly. The music department secretary for 14 years, she saved his skin that first hectic year he was band director, he said.
About 40 kids joined the team in Hicks’ memory, collecting spare change from their classmates and parents. Twenty-five of those team members stayed the night at the track, stringing up hammocks in the stands and playing a rousing rendition of the high school fight song at 6 a.m. to rouse the relayers.
Wing hopes to find other high school relay teams and challenge them to a contest to raise the most for the event. Even if the students never knew Hicks, he hopes they will learn the value of philanthropy and take it with them into their adult lives.
Some teams honored family members who never made it to adulthood.
Cory’s Crew, headed by Kelsey Carter, walked the track for the 14th year. The team honored Carter’s cousin, Cory, who was diagnosed with cancer before he turned 1 year old. He died at age 5, and Carter, friends and family have remembered him during the Relay for Life of Greenfield ever since.
Like other friends and family of someone lost to cancer, Carter said she treasures the luminaria ceremony every year.
Personalized luminary bags light up the night, emblazoned with names of those who have been diagnosed with cancer — those still undergoing treatment, those who are cancer-free and those whose lives were ended by the disease.
Every relay team member holds someone close to their hearts that suffered from cancer.
Amelia Shepherd, who received the “Spirit of Relay” award from event chair Brooke Melton, thinks of her father, who was diagnosed with skin cancer when she was in elementary school.
With that in mind, the Butler University junior has sent home packets about the Relay for Life with students of Harris and J.B. Stephens elementary schools and Maxwell Intermediate School.
At some of the schools, classes battled to raise the most money, and the winning class earned a pizza party, Shepherd said.
She also teaches students about cancer prevention, especially emphasizing sun safety because of her father’s experiences.
This year’s event goal is $77,000. Fundraising continues until Aug. 31.
Relay for Life of Greenfield 2016
1: Dena’s Gang, $10,000.44
2. We R Fighters, $7,141
3. Friends 4 a Cure, $7,091
To donate, visit relay.acsevents.org.