Relay Life 19th Year

Colon cancer survivor Steve Gossard walks with his wife Kathy and daughters Rebecca Sherfey, left and Stephanie Long, during the 19th annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life of McLean County, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. The event was held at the Normal Community West High School track in Normal. (The Pantagraph/STEVE SMEDLEY)

Steve Smedley

NORMAL — Violent storms proved to be a minor setback as the Relay For Life of McLean County concluded Saturday.

About 120 teams turned out Friday and Saturday for the 24-hour fundraising event, with teams circling the athletic field at Normal Community West High School in muggy heat.

The storms hurt turnout Friday, said Dede Verplaetse, publicity chairwoman for the relay. Ultimately, the event brought in about $446,000, somewhat short of its $560,000 goal.

“We had a mediocre turnout due to the weather,” Verplaetse said. “Crowds were a little smaller, but those that were here and stuck around partied all night. It was fun.”

As in previous years, McLean County proved very generous, with more than $300,000 donated before the event even began Friday, Verplaetse said.

Heavy rains and sweeping winds brought down some tents Friday night, with relay participants seeking shelter inside the high school for a time. Despite that, spirits remained high as the event drew to a close at noon Saturday. Among those sticking it out to the very end were Cyndi Hays and her younger daughter, Caitlin. They were raising money in honor of the late Bill Hays.

Colorectal cancer claimed the life of Cyndi Hays’ husband in May of 2010. Since then, Cyndi, 44, of Bloomington, and her daughters have participated in the relay in his honor, and for those still fighting cancer. She described her late husband as a great man who was never enthusiastic about visiting doctors, but who nevertheless became outspoken about regularly monitoring for the deadly illness.

Though she said the roughly $2,000 her four-person team had raised by Saturday didn’t entitle them to any awards at the closing ceremony, every little bit helps the cause.

“People that are here are not just here to run the relay, we’re here for a reason,” Hays said. “They’ve lost somebody. It’s hit real close to them, and predominately it’s because of the death of a loved one or a close friend.”

Caitlin, 13, a student at Parkside Junior High School, said the event gave her a feeling of accomplishment and pride.

“Once you’ve walked all night long, and you stay up all night, you’re feeling like you’re making a difference,” she said.

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