‘The little Relay that could’: Moses Lake Relay for Life marks 30 years with small but enthusiastic turnout

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  • Joel Martin/Columbia Basin Herald Three survivors and a banner start the circuit around the Grant County Fairgrounds at the beginning of the Relay for Life Friday night.

  • 1

    Joel Martin/Columbia Basin Herald Charlene Rios, third from right, of Big Bend Community College, accepts the Team of the Year banner from Relay ‘chaos coordinators’ Josie Sisson and Donna Anderson at the Relay for Life Friday night.

  • 2

    Joel Martin/Columbia Basin Herald Karen Okerlund, left, and Amber Jacobs don tutus in Big Bend colors to walk the Relay for Life Friday.

  • Joel Martin/Columbia Basin Herald Three survivors and a banner start the circuit around the Grant County Fairgrounds at the beginning of the Relay for Life Friday night.

  • 1

    Joel Martin/Columbia Basin Herald Charlene Rios, third from right, of Big Bend Community College, accepts the Team of the Year banner from Relay ‘chaos coordinators’ Josie Sisson and Donna Anderson at the Relay for Life Friday night.

  • 2

    Joel Martin/Columbia Basin Herald Karen Okerlund, left, and Amber Jacobs don tutus in Big Bend colors to walk the Relay for Life Friday.

MOSES LAKE — The rumors of the Moses Lake Relay for Life’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

To be sure, the Relay that took place at the Grant County Fairgrounds Friday evening was a much smaller affair than we would have seen five or 10 years ago. Still, 18 teams and hundreds of walkers turned out to take their stand against cancer. The numbers might have been smaller, but the enthusiasm was still there.

This year’s Relay marked the 30th anniversary of the event in Moses Lake, but it almost didn’t happen, said Relay committee member Josie Sisson at the opening ceremonies. Still, they were determined to pull it together, she said, because “at no time has cancer quit affecting those we love.” She described the 2018 event as “The little Relay that could.”

Much of the difficulty in putting on the event stemmed from the American Cancer Society’s recent restructuring, according to committee member Donna Anderson. Starting this year, any Relay that brings in less than $100,000 is designated a “do-it-yourself” event, with no direct staff support from the ACS. This created some confusion, Anderson said, but also gave the individual communities more leeway.

“We’ve had a learning year with the DIY,” she said. “It basically is going to make each community unique, so we can do what we want to do for our community. If we only want to do a four-hour event, we can do a four-hour event. If we want to grow it to 24 hours again, we can do that.”

At last report, Anderson said, Friday’s Relay had raised $40,000, with a little more to come from a couple of teams that should exceed the goal of $45,000. It’s not the $120,000 that was raised in 2014, but it’s still a good chunk of change for a small community.

The event was pulled together rather late, as Anderson, Sisson and new committee members Kelly Oscarson and Julie Martin picked up the reins from the previous committee in January. The four of them dubbed themselves “Chaos Coordinators” and proceeded to pull off some miracles. The Relay has struggled in recent years both with finding a location for the event and with getting the information out to the community at large. (The Relay used to be held at Moses Lake High School and later at Lions Field until school officials put the kibosh on that in 2013.)

Getting the word out was another challenge, Sisson said. “People have to know there’s an event for there to be an event. There are so many (people in the community) that don’t even realize we have a Relay here.”

The foursome worked what Anderson described as a “second full-time job” signing up teams and corporate sponsors and organizing fundraisers and outreach events.

By any measure, their efforts must have been successful. Many of the teams that turned out Friday were return participants, but not all of them. And four teams that had dropped out of participation have committed to return next year, Anderson said.

REC Silicon, which won the events “Hope Award,” was one of the old standbys, having participated in the Relay almost every year that team member Sarah Oman could remember. The company did rummage sales, chili dog feeds and other company-wide fundraisers all year. As of Friday evening REC alone had raised $10,060, Oman said.

A little way down the makeshift track, the family-based Team Cut It Out had pitched its tent and was taking turns walking. The team was founded by Amber Kuntz’ husband following her diagnosis with thyroid cancer, Kuntz said. “I’ll do anything so that my three kids don’t have to deal with what I did.”

Next year looks a bit more promising, Anderson said. Three new committee members came on board Friday and they are already making plans for fundraisers.

“The community was awesome,” Anderson said. “We’ve had nothing but good things to say about the businesses that donated, and the corporate sponsors. We hoped for bigger (for our 30th anniversary), but 31 will be our thing. We’re already starting to plan for next year. We’re coming back strong.”

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