Thirteen teams took to the Delta High School track Friday night to raise funds for the American Cancer Society by participating in the annual Relay For Life. By the time the sun peeked over the horizon Saturday morning, the 121 registered relayers had raised $29,922 for the fight against cancer.
The top three teams were The Pondy, $8,481; Walmart, $8,160; and Ribbons of the Rockies, $4,850. Natalie Fresquez was the top individual fundraiser.
There were fewer participants this year, noted event chairman Angela Schwarz, but they managed to raise nearly the same amount of money as last year. Schwarz said the total averaged just over $247 per person -- the highest per capita fundraising for Western Slope relays.
"It's truly amazing," Schwarz said. "We're certainly not the richest county in the state, and when you look at everything we've gone through with job loss, the economy ... these relayers blow my mind every year."
Schwarz said many of the teams -- including The Pondy -- have been raising funds for some time. Bad News Blairs and Squares had a booth at AppleFest 2014.
"These teams fundraise all year. All of them have their own stories, reasons they relay. They're a tough group of people and they totally deserve the kudos. They don't ever give up. That makes my heart happy."
More than four million people in over 20 countries raise funds and awareness through the Relay For Life movement. The Relay For Life is also an opportunity to celebrate those who have overcome cancer, as survivors were honored during the first lap around the track.
This year's honorary survivor, Isabel Fresquez, has fought both breast and cervical cancer. "She is my sister, my hero," said caregiver Viola Nutt. Both women referred to their father, who died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 82. They participate in Relay For Life because the event helps fund research into the earlier detection and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The American Cancer Society also helps people like Fresquez cope with cancer through a variety of programs.
During the opening ceremonies, Nutt spoke eloquently about the challenges experienced by caregivers, which pale in comparison to the hurdles faced by their loved ones.
After event chair Angela Schwarz sang the national anthem and Boy Scout Troop 485 presented the colors, the event opened with a survivors' lap.
Survivors walked a half lap alone, because that's how they started their journey. Then they were joined by the caregivers who have stood by their side in the battle against cancer.
After the survivors' lap, team members took turns walking through the night.
The theme of this year's event, "Once Upon A Time," inspired a number of games to keep the energy level high, including a fairy tale relay and a fairy tale edition of a newspaper fashion show.
At dusk, luminarias were lit to honor those who are currently fighting cancer or those who have lost the battle. Following a short ceremony, everyone walked a silent lap in the darkened stadium, remembering those who were represented on the luminaries.
Prior to the opening ceremony, survivors and their caregivers enjoyed a delicious meal catered by Daveto's Italian Restaurant at Redeemer Lutheran Church.
Paonia Elementary School second grade teacher Jodi Simpson is passionate about pedagogy. She understands that the important things kids learn in school isn't accomplished through testing, but by experiencing life and all its wonders.