Relay equals hope

Published 8:36 am Tuesday, May 21, 2013

WINDSOR – Hope never fades; it just gets stronger.

From its humble beginnings 20 years ago – where 15 teams raised just over $11,000 – Bertie County Relay for Life celebrated another birthday here this past weekend. This time around there were 34 teams who combined their efforts to raise in excess of $200,000.

“This cooperative effort will have helped Bertie County raise approximately $245,000 by the end of our Relay season,” said Artie Johnson, co-chair of the 2013 event.  “All monies raised at Relay For Life are sent to the American Cancer Society to fund its mission.  For every dollar raised here, three are returned to North Carolina because of its vast number of teaching and research hospitals.  Your dollars also help to support Hope Lodge in Greenville and local patient support programs in Bertie County.”

Should Bertie Relay reach the $245,000 mark for 2013, that would be only $5,000 shy of $3 million raised over its 20-year history…not bad for a small, rural county that has witnessed an emotional roller coaster ride over two decades. But despite the hand dealt to this county, hope always came through.

Even after the worst flood of the century in 1999 (Hurricane Floyd), Bertie Relay managed to generate $220,433.

In September of 2010, just as Relay efforts for the following year were getting underway, Tropical Storm Nicole flooded BertieCounty once again. That was followed a short seven months later by the worst natural disaster in the county’s history – the April 2011 twin tornadoes that left 11 dead and damage in the millions. One month later, Bertie Relay placed first in the nation in per capita fundraising.

Hurricane Irene rolled through later in 2011; Bertie County was under water once again. That never deflated hope in the county as the 2012 Relay raised in excess of $216,000.

The hope, the spirit of the state’s oldest Relay event was witnessed Friday night where the football stadium at Bertie High School was packed with a festive crowd.

“This is one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever had and it’s really exiting to be able to celebrate 20 years of hope. We’re also celebrating 100 years of the American Cancer Society,” Johnson told the crowd that night.

To note the progress of the ACS over those 100 years, Johnson stated, “If you look around you today, 400 more people have survived; 400 more birthdays have been celebrated thanks to the American Cancer Society and their wonderful research.”

Bertie County Commissioner Ron Wesson gave the opening invocation….saying that Relay was like a popular biblical scripture, “You (God) asked that we do unto others as we would want for ourselves.”

The Bertie High School JROTC presented the colors followed by the popular local group – “Eyes of Emiline” – singing the National Anthem.

As is tradition at Bertie Relay for Life, cancer survivors were each recognized for the brave, personal battle. That ceremony was followed by the annual first lap walked by those survivors…some under their own power, others needing motorized transportation via Bertie Sheriff’s vehicles along with a few motorcycles and four-wheelers.  The survivors later enjoyed a reception held in their honor inside the school.

Bertie Public Schools Superintendent Elaine White told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald that the county’s school system had long been supporters of Relay for Life, not only in the fact that the high school’s football field has served as home for this event on numerous occasions over the past 20 years.

“Cancer has touched so many lives here in our county, to include those employed by our school system as well as students and their family and friends,” she said. “We’re proud to support Relay for Life with our time, money and efforts. Each one of our schools participates in Relay.”

Speaking to the assembled audience, White said Relay offers everyone in the communities that dot the Bertie County landscape not only the opportunity to join in the fight against cancer, but also an opportunity to come together as neighbors, family and friends.

“The organization of this event is to symbolize the struggle that cancer patients and their families face and to confirm our faith and hope that together we can and will find a cure for cancer,” White stressed.

In a year’s time across the globe, 12.7 million individuals will learn they have cancer; 7.6 million will die from the disease.

“It (cancer) certainly warrants our attention,” she said. “The survivors certainly warrant our admiration and respect. The funds raised here at Bertie County Relay for Life save lives by funding cutting edge cancer research; detection and prevention education; advocacy efforts; and life-affirming patient services.

“It is because of you, those gathered here tonight, that we are able to save lives, help those battling cancer, and empower all to fight back against this disease,” White concluded.

Johnson summed up the Friday-Saturday effort by stating, “While there were so many things going on, the most important one was to honor those who have fought this battle vs. cancer and won. We are proud to honor our cancer survivors, you are why we Relay; you are our heroes; you are our inspiration to continue. Your handprints at Relay leave a lasting impression on each of us. This year we were honored to have 220 survivors kick off our Relay with the celebratory first lap in their honor.  We look forward to seeing each of you next year at our 21st annual Relay For Life of Bertie County.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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