Relay for Life in Boardman runs through Saturday

By Graig Graziosi


Laurie Harper set a goal for herself during last year’s Relay For Life fundraiser in Boardman: She walked for a continuous 18 hours.

This year, she intends to break it by going a full 24 hours around the track at Spartan Stadium.

While her full-day feat is impressive, Harper’s most impressive win was against breast cancer. Harper is a two-year cancer survivor, and she dedicated her walk in Boardman’s 23rd annual Relay for Life to her brother-in-law’s father, Bill Dugan, who recently died from pancreatic cancer.

The Relay for Life – this year’s Boardman relay began Friday and runs until 6 tonight – is the flagship fundraising event of the American Cancer Society, where people sponsor teams and singular participants to walk continuous laps around a track, often for 24 hours.

Cancer survivors, such as Harper, are joined on the track by friends and family during the walk and also are honored with a dinner and a ceremony.

“The relay isn’t really about any one individual; it’s about the support everyone brings for everyone else, no matter how they’ve been impacted by cancer,” Harper said.

Forty-seven teams were registered to participate in this year’s relay, with organizers estimating a total turnout of between 500 and 700 participants.

Stephanie Shelton, one of the event’s co-organizers alongside Frank Lazzeri, has been involved with the relay for 12 years. She said this year’s fundraising goal was $115,000, but for her, the event is about much more than simply raising money.

Shelton’s mother is a two-time breast-cancer survivor, and her father died as a result of cancer last year. She said nearly every member of her family has been stricken with some form of cancer, making every Relay for Life she works an intimate, personal experience.

“It’s near and dear to my heart,” Shelton said. “I want to put a smile on every survivor’s face.”

While Shelton helps run the event and the walkers circle the track, other supporters – often walkers who are waiting until the following day to walk a leg – man decorated team tents behind the stadium. Inside the tents, walkers can take breaks, and visiting spectators can purchase items from teams to help add to their individual fundraising goals. There are incentives for best-decorated tents.

Fran Higgins and Leesa Webber were manning the tent for Mary’s Pink Ribbon Racers, a team of more than 20 walkers organized by Many Comstock. Inside the tent, the women were selling bracelets, cupcakes and raffle baskets, all matching the tent’s “carnival” theme.

Higgins began participating in the relay when her youngest daughter began walking during the event.

“It’s so close to the hearts of the survivors and their families, it just drew me in,” Higgins said. “We’ve all been impacted in some way by cancer.”

Mary’s Pink Ribbon Racers remembers Mary Jane Woolley, Comstock’s grandmother, who died of cancer.