Even though she is only a third grader at Horace Mann School, Autumn Trackewicz wasn’t going to let a diagnosis of cancer slow her down. In fact, she has become deeply involved in this year’s Relay for Life in Bayonne, and organizers have dedicated the event to her.
“She has her own team,” said Mary Lindquest, a committee person for the Bayonne Relay. “She is part of the Relay For Life Committee and helps out. She tries to make all of our meetings.”
With 65 teams and about 377 participants, Bayonne has one of the largest Relay events in the region. Last year, the campaign in the city raised $120,000 towards cancer research. This year organizers are looking to raise $125,000.
“We’ve raised about $47,776 so far,” Raeann Hempel said during a group interview at the Broadway Diner on May 15.
“Last year it poured,” said Hempel. “This year we’re hoping for good weather.”
Because of an early graduation of Bayonne High School, the date had to be changed, starting with the overnight event on Saturday, June 16.
While the event is run by the American Cancer Society, each locality has its own committee that works on various aspects of the event. Bayonne, which originally held the event at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, began its own Relay For Life about four years ago, said Diane Leniak, co-chair of the committee for personal support
Anyone can organize a team of walkers, who then go out and raise money through a variety of means, sometimes holding dine-around events with local eateries. They make signs for sponsors, sell Luminaria bags, and collect donations through the web site in support of a particular team.
Participants even held a charity softball game. This year a double-header slated for June 8 at the Klump field pitted the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department, the Bayonne Department of Public works, and the Bayonne Police and Fire Departments against the Longshoremen.
“I sent out donation letters,” Hempel said.
There are the stars, sun and moons, which are small pieces of paper that amount to donations people offer. Finally there is canning, which groups just got their permits to do again in May. They will hold another canning event in June, during which volunteers will go out with tin cans near the Turnpike and collect donations.
Relay For Life a ritualistic event
Relay For Life is about more than just fundraising. It is a moment when participants, survivors and caregivers gather to remember loved ones lost to cancer and honor those battling the disease through Luminaria bags.
As the sun sets at a Relay For Life event, Luminaria bags lining the track illuminate the night and a hush falls over the event that had been filled with the sounds of celebration. Relay For Life participants, survivors and caregivers then gather together for the Luminaria Ceremony to remember loved ones lost to cancer and to honor those who have battled the disease.
As participants walk the track lined with Luminaria bags in reflection, a caregiver who has lost a loved one may find comfort from a fellow caregiver who has faced a similar loss. Meanwhile, a survivor gains hope and strength from others who have followed the same journey and survived. All resolve to keep fighting to save more lives so no more Luminaria bear the names of those lost to the disease.
The relay starts with a Survivors’ Lap, during which those who have survived the struggle circle the track together to help everyone celebrate what has been achieved against cancer. Then there is the Fight Back Ceremony, where people who have made a personal commitment to save lives by taking up the fight against cancer walk or run a lap. Commitments could be something as simple as getting a screening test or quitting smoking. Then there is a caregiver lap, and then the teams begin their laps.
There are awards given based on essays, one award “in memory of,” another “in care of” and a third “in honor of.” There is also an eternal flame award.
Teams take turns doing laps, but there must be one member from each team on the track at any given time during the 12-hour relay event. While team members off the field can sleep in the tents, most don’t. There is a lot of fundraising at the event as well.
“Last year it poured. This year we’re hoping for good weather.” – Raeann Hempel
The events take planning that starts in August, as committee people wrap up the previous year’s event and start putting together the details of the next year. Holy Family Academy plays a large role in the annual event, although many of the local schools send representatives. There are teams that come in from Jersey City.
Usually teams are organized around someone that has been stricken or has passed away as a result of cancer, Lindquest said.
Joanne Baran is the survivor committee person. She is also a survivor of breast cancer, for which she was treated seven-and-a-half years ago. Hudson County, Baran said, has a high rate of cancer.
Cindy Bizukiewcz, the mission and advocacy chair, said that more than one million people nationwide are diagnosed with cancer annually.
The event gets a lot of local support in Bayonne and Jersey City, such as from Applebee’s, which will be on site to grill and sell hot dogs to raise money. Provident Bank and Shop Rite have been strong supporters. Bayonne Medical Center donated $1,000 this year. McCabe Ambulance is an annual supporter, sponsoring the survivor tent.
Sonic Restaurant will be holding an event on June 11 from 5 p.m. to closing. There will be a special party at the Masonic Lodge on June 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The masons have been a big supporter of the relay, especially the youth masons, and are expected to help out on relay night.
T.G.I. Friday’s will hold a dine-out on May 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pompeii Pizza will hosting a dine-out on May 31 from 5 to 9 p.m. Applebee’s in Jersey City will hold a flapjack pancake breakfast on June 3 from 8 to 10 a.m. For more information these or other events go to relayforlife.org/bayonnenj.