Live a little, and bring the relay here

Part marathon, part barbecue, part workout, part campout, part Frisbee toss, part neighborhood social, part memorial service, part rock concert. And 100 percent fun, all for good health and a good cause.

That’s the easiest way we can describe Relay for Life, a round-the-clock event to raise awareness and funds for cancer research sponsored by the American Cancer Society. The events are held in communities nationwide every summer, drawing tens of thousands of participants, including many from Kitsap County. Organizers hope to bring the relay to Bainbridge Island next, and we hope Bainbridge Island welcomes the event.

What is Relay for Life? In a nutshell, a community turns out to walk, jog or run around the local high school track for a 24-hour period, say, from noon Saturday to noon Sunday. Teams representing businesses, service organizations, neighborhoods, schools and churches try to keep at least one person on the track at all times, to symbolize the round-the-clock fight to end the scourge of cancer. The more teams that sign up, the more folks there are circling the track at any given time.

And while the exercise is a good enough excuse to turn out for a few hours even without a team – who couldn’t use a good walk unspoiled? – it’s the little micro-community that springs up that really makes the event so much fun.

We remember our first Relay for Life event at the Bangor submarine base back in 1995, when the Review and its sister papers fielded squads for the full 24-hour stretch (of which this editor shrewdly signed up to walk on what turned out to be an unusually glorious Saturday evening). A veritable tent city filled the infield, staked out by those committed to keep the trek going through the wee hours. Barbecues smoked, Frisbees and softballs filled the evening sky, and local musicians provided a mellifluous soundtrack from a nearby stage. A few hundred Kitsap neighbors of all ages basked in the summer glow, circling the track with friends and loved ones or just hanging out between shifts.

Indeed, while individuals might sign up for specific time slots, enterprising groups can make the event a lot more social by committing to whole blocks of time with their friends or co-workers. Pick a four-hour shift, then come out and walk for a while, sit and chat for a while, walk for a while, throw a ball for a while, walk for a while, snack or nap for a while, and then get back out onto the track once again. Bring a sleeping bag and walk a few shifts under the summer moon.

That’s what a Relay for Life looks like.

And as the sun goes down, up goes the luminaria – small lights lining the track to symbolize and honor those battling or lost to the terrible disease of cancer. You’d be hard-pressed to find a family anywhere that hasn’t been so touched, giving the event a real resonance for all.

Notwithstanding the gravity of the cause, though, the Relay for Life is a really good time, and we think it’s the sort of event Bainbridge Island would embrace and enjoy. The fine ladies of the American Cancer Society will be on the island this coming week, with an organizational meeting slated for 7 p.m. March 30 at the Commons in Waterfront Park.

Welcome them, and let’s see if we can put a new Relay for Life on the map.

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