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‘When we walk together, we are bigger than cancer’: Relay For Life raises $70K for the cause

Joe Bowen/FOCUS Relay For Life Honorary Co-Chairs Linda Hendrickson and Kathy Wouters were greeted by hundreds of cheering spectators as they led the ‘Survivors Lap’ at the 2013 relay in Perham. 1 / 4
Dressed in purple shirts, 72 cancer survivors participated in the East Otter Tail County Relay For Life.2 / 4
Chairperson Lisa Peterson speaks at the opening of the luminary ceremony3 / 4
An unbroken string of luminaries surrounded both sides of the Perham High School track, commemorating family members who had battled, or were battling, cancer.4 / 4

“We have gathered here tonight for various reasons – to support family members, friends, or co-workers who are battling cancer, to remember loved ones we’ve lost, to fight back against cancer, to join in a cause we believe in, and for many other reasons,” said event emcee Mike Peterson during his opening remarks at the East Otter Tail County Relay For Life ceremony, held last Friday in Perham.

He added passionately: “Although our individual reasons vary, we are all united in one desire: to fight cancer and work for a cure. And we know that when we are united – when we walk together – we are bigger than cancer!”

After a short prayer by Pastor Phil Arndt, of Crossroads Church in Perham, Peterson thanked the dozens of sponsors and volunteers who assisted in the funding and planning of the event.

The 2013 honorary co-chairs of the relay, Linda Hendrickson and Kathy Wouters, led the initial “survivors’” lap, during which 72 cancer survivors, wearing purple, the symbolic color of the relay itself, walked around the Perham High School track as other participants stood on either side, cheering them on.

Many supporters crossed the infield so they could cheer on the survivors a second or third time.

“Let’s celebrate, let’s fight back, and let’s have a big relay,” said the local relay’s chairperson, Lisa Peterson.

After the survivor’s lap, a flock of doves was released.

“It is our wish that this magical moment will inspire you and renew your spirit,” the emcee said beforehand. “On this night we come together to focus on life and love and hope.”

As the doves circled nearby, the relay began in earnest.

Peterson announced each relay team as they began their journeys, most carrying banners with the name or logo of their sponsoring organization.

The Ottertail Otters counted Mary Hanson and Elaine Holmstrom among their members.

Holmstrom said the event was meaningful to her because she lost one of her best friends to cancer a few months ago and her partner, a member of the Ottertail Fire and Rescue Department, before that.

“You look at all these bags,” she said, referring to the luminaries surrounding the track, “and you see what these people have been through.”

“You know you’re not alone,” she said as her eyes filled with tears.

Hanson explained that they were walking for survivors, too, and the hope of being able to beat cancer.

As the sun began to set, a luminary ceremony began.

Large light boxes with the words “Celebrate,” “Remember,” “Fight Back,” and “Hope” were lit, signaling the beginning of the ceremony.

Hundreds of white paper bags containing small candles were lit by relay participants around the track as their teammates continued the walk.

As the luminary ceremony drew to a close, a torrential thunderstorm began, prompting event organizers to usher participants off the track due to the safety risk posed by frequent lightning strikes.

The persistent rain meant that the event did not pick up for the remainder of the evening.

“This has never happened in 18, 19 years,” Peterson said as she helped take down the silent auction tent.

The relay was far from a disappointment, however. In all, the event raised upwards of $70,000, and Peterson said in a follow up interview that that number will go up as donations continue to roll in.