Walkers will be out in force at Nature Coast Technical High School tonight and Saturday morning for the first of three — yes, three — Relays for Life in Hernando County this year.
Spring Hill and Brooksville relays have taken place for several years, and they are now being joined by a third — a Weeki Wachee relay.
The relays are the biggest annual event nationwide to raise money for cancer research and treatment for cancer patients. They celebrate survivors, recognize their caregivers and spread the word about services offered by the American Cancer Society.
The continuous hours are meant to signify how cancer patients suffer with and fight their disease around the clock, said Stephanie Sutton, chairwoman for the newest relay, which will take place April 20 and 21 at Weeki Wachee High School.
Cancer patients may say, "'I'm too tired to go for my treatment,' but they go," said Sutton, who cared for her mother through a 1 1/2-year battle with esophageal cancer.
"If they can do it, we can do it," she added. "We will carry on, whatever it takes."
As for the need for three relays in Hernando, she said, "Every relay is unique to their community and their committee."
This weekend's Spring Hill event, with John Monticciolo as chairman, has chosen as its theme "Relayville, the Town that Cares." Its main street is designated "The Road to Recovery."
The Brooksville relay, on April 27 and 28 at Hernando High School, will feature "Superheroes" under the leadership of chairwoman Paula Hamilton.
At Weeki Wachee, teams will decorate their campsites and some will don costumes to represent the theme of "Movies."
There, the Baby Boomers Club at Timber Pines will portray the film Animal House. Music and dance students from Weeki Wachee High will perform to Singin' in the Rain while kids from Winding Waters Elementary School will offer up their rendition of Bee Movie. Visitors also will be treated to representations from Pirates of the Caribbean and Bob the Builder.
American Cancer Society community representative Jean Harberts said the more relays, the better.
"We need to spread the word (of cancer awareness)," she said. "The relay is the best way to get the word out.
"If you want to grow, you need to spread the word — reach farther out. Hernando Beach and Weeki Wachee have never been exposed to what we have. (With a neighborhood relay), we encompass everybody."
Sutton added, The cancer society "thought the western end of the county wasn't reached, businesses on (U.S.) 19. We didn't want to step on any toes in Brooksville or Spring Hill. They do a fabulous job. We wanted to get new people involved."
With 17 teams signed up for the Weeki Wachee event, only one previously existing unit, Nature Coast Pavers, switched relays.
The business's co-owner, Diane Thomas, wanted to play a bigger role, Sutton said, and is serving on the organizing committee and as a team captain.
The teams encompass 222 walkers, with each team urged to raise $1,000, or each walker $100. Some teams field as many as 10 volunteers. The overall goal is $40,000, about half of it already pledged, Sutton said.
Money isn't everything, Sutton stressed.
"Our goal is to raise money to find a cure, but it's also to raise awareness in Hernando County," she said.
"We're so surprised about the high school and students that are getting involved. It's fabulous."
School nursing program coordinator Bonnie Kolling is chairwoman of team recruitment. Guidance department leader Summer Clark is activities chairwoman. Assistant principal Troy LaBarbara is serving as chairman of logistics and operations — and also a member of Team Nicholas, a relay unit recognizing his son, Nicholas LaBarbara, as a cancer survivor.
And the other end of the age spectrum is being included for the first time in a Hernando relay: the rocking chair crowd. Those who can't walk or find it difficult to do so are being invited to bring rocking chairs and rock for the time it would take to traverse the track.
"Next year," Sutton said, "we'd like to have a whole team of rockers."
As with all of the relays, activities to tease the participants, keep them awake during the night and interest visitors will be included.
Food, games and cancer awareness items will be available for purchase.
"I hope it will be fun," Sutton said. "That's how you get people to come back."
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]