On Saturday evening, teams of local residents ranging from high school students to grandparents to community organizations, pitched tents and food stations at Concordia College and set out to walk for 12 hours around a circular track, as part of this year's Relay for Life.
And while they might have varied in age and interests, they participated in the fundraising event for a common reason: Cancer had affected their lives in some way.
"My daughter was diagnosed nine months before last year's Relay," said Irene Indri, from Eastchester, who was there with her family, including her daughter, Danielle, a member of Dani's WFH (Westchester Funeral Home) Girls team.
Participants from the Eastchester-Tuckahoe Chamber of Commerce, who came together to make a team, were also impacted. "This disease has touched everybody inside the Chamber and outside the Chamber," said Larry Marciano, who has been on the Board of Directors for about 15 years.
"I was only 30," said Regina Rivera, explaining when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, "I knew it was possible, but I didn't know it was so prevalent." Rivera was there with her team, Rally for Regina, who all wore matching black shirts with "Fight Like a Girl" written in pink on the front.
And sitting in a circle on a blanket, students from Eastchester High School, who, when asked why they wanted to participate in the event, named mothers, sisters and grandparents affected by the disease.
"I know someone who recently died of cancer, so I'm here for her," said Abbie Orlando, a 9th grader at the school.
A Worthwhile Walk
The event, which is sponsored by the American Cancer Society, is a way to raise both money for research and bring about awareness.
"Relay for Life helps us to celebrate those who survived, remember those we have lost, and fight back along side those who are battling this terrible disease," said Marissa McKinney, co-chair of the event.
Team of approximately 8 -15 people came together and began fundraising as far back as February. Then, starting at 6pm on Saturday and going until 6am on Sunday morning, they continuously made their way around the track, with one member of the team walking at all times.
The event can trace its roots back to 1985, when Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Tacoma, Washington, spent 24 hours walking around a track by himself to raise money for cancer. Since then, over 3 million people in 20 countries have participated, according to the American Cancer Society Relay for Life website.
"This event happens every year, all over the country, in communities and at colleges," said Rob Sampogna, the chair of the event.
Sampogna, with the help of the American Cancer Society office in White Plains, was the one to introduce the Relay to the Bronxville, Tuckahoe, Eastchester community last year.
"I started with Relay for Life in 2004. I was at Loyola University in Maryland and a friend of mine who was a year below me started it there," the Eastchester resident explained. "When I graduated college, we didn't have that kind of event in this area. About a year, year and a half after I graduated, I thought, you know what, I want to do this again."
Last year, about 200 people participated, which helped to raise about $33,000.
More participants and more public awareness helped to up that amount to $51,000 this year. (Although that number might change since participants have until August 31 to get money in.)
Of those who participated, the top teams included Dani's WFH Girls who raised $4,949.35, Rally For Regina who were at $4,424 and I VINCITORI who brought in $3,670, according to Jacqueline Smith from the American Cancer Society office in White Plains.
More than Money
But for those like Regina Rivera, it's not just about raising money.
"Raising money is one thing," she said, "I was diagnosed at 30, so I'm interested in raising awareness."
And by the looks of the number of people at the event on Saturday, it did just that.
Set up on the grass inside the circular track, teams pitched 10-man tents, sold cookies, cupcakes and other baked goods to raise additional funds and had loads of games—from Clue to Monopoly—on hand to play throughout the night.
The event kicked off with the opening ceremony at 6pm. The Chapel School Choir sang the National Anthem, followed with speeches by Sampogna, McKinney, Smith and Linda Whitehead, the vice president of the Board of Advisors for the American Cancer Society, Westchester Region. Local politicians, including Tuckahoe Mayor John Fitzpatrick and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin also spoke.
After the opening ceremony, the Survivor Lap marked the first walk. During this lap, survivors and caregivers walk around the track together as a way to celebrate the victory achieved, according to the Relay for Life website.
A DJ from Big Town Productions kept the spirit pumping with music throughout the Relay. And along with the Chapel School Choir, there were performances by Bronxville High School's Sha!Capella and the Showstoppers, a group from the New York Center for Performing Arts in White Plains.
Other traditional ceremonies were held, such as the Luminaria Ceremony, where participants walk a lap in silence while holding candles. Each candle is placed inside a bag, which has the name of a person affected by cancer. In addition, there was the Fight Back Ceremony, which took place on Sunday morning and featured participants walking a lap in commitment to the cause. Wake up Yoga, provided by Yoga Haven in Tuckahoe, was also provided for Relay participants.
The whole event is a means to representing what those diagnosed with cancer must face.
"It's not just about walking through the night. There is an important symbolism to the darkness to light aspect of the night and day," Sampogna said before the event. "They parallel the physical effects, emotions, and mental state of cancer patients while they undergo treatment. From the darkness of being diagnosed, through the uncertainty, the treatment, the pain, and the physical and emotional fight that patients have, the sun gives us the light of hope for the future. And that's why this event is more than just a walk. It's about people coming together in a unified effort to show their support of one another. I relay for my family members who have fought this disease. Whether they have won or lost their battle, they never lost their faith and hope."