The Relay For Life cancer-awareness event first took place in Trumbull County in 1994 at Warren's Mollenkopf Stadium. In 1997, Relay had become so big that a second Relay For Life was needed, which took place in Niles.
The 2010 Niles Relay, the earliest of the now five Trumbull County Relays, will be held from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Ralph Infante Wellness Center.
This year's Niles Relay will feature special guests on the afternoon of Saturday, May 1: four former Ohio State football players, three of whom are current NFL players and one of whom is a retired NFL player. The players will be signing autographs at the Niles Relay as a fundraiser.
Tribune Chronicle file photos / R. Michael Semple
ABOVE: Relay Queen Debbie Canan of Lordstown led the survivors lap at the 2009 Niles Relay for Life at the Ralph Infante Niles Wellness Center.
The Niles Relay started out all those years ago with about a dozen teams, according to Shawn Bryant, co-chair of the Niles Relay. This year, the Niles Relay has about 20 teams. That number, however, doesn't include associate teams, which are groups of people who wish to contribute but don't have their own team.
Associate teams are something that Bryant encourages. Bryant's company, Penn Care, has a team every year and frequently mentors new teams. That way, associate teams can learn how Relay works, how to manage a team and how to raise money without actually having to do all those things their first year. Bryant said it's a good way to get new groups involved in Relay without overwhelming them.
At first, Niles Relay struggled to find an appropriate location, such as Cafaro Field and Niles McKinley High School, and changed venues multiple times. Relays are typically held outdoors, but the Niles Relay is now held indoors at Ralph Infante Wellness Center at Waddell Park.
On the Web
n For information, visit "Niles Ohio Relay
for Life" on?Facebook, the Niles Relay
event page on the American Cancer
Society's Web page, main.acsevents.org,
or visit www.relayforlife.org
In the Paper
n A special issue of All About Health
dedicated to Relay for Life will be
Because the Niles Relay is the earliest of the Trumbull Relays, weather was a determining factor.
"We juggle weather every year," said Bryant. "We have snow, we have rain, we have cold, we have hot."
One year, the Niles Relay had to evacuate due to inclement weather, so Bryant finally agreed to an indoor Relay. There are some disadvantages to being indoors, such as limited space, limited power supply, and limited parking, but it's an overall gain in the end.
"It's dry. It keeps us cool. It's a controlled atmosphere," Bryant said. "It's worked out very well for us. We're very pleased."
Like many Relay participants, Bryant became involved because cancer touched his life. His mother was a cancer survivor, and he was grateful for the care and treatment she received in the Valley.
"It was about helping the people back that helped me," Bryant said.
He started participating in 2000 and soon became co-chair. Penn Care has had a team since 2002. The irony in Bryant's story is that after becoming so involved with the Niles Relay, he was diagnosed with cancer himself. Bryant had brain cancer and underwent surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
One team that's been a part of the Niles Relay since its inception is the Niles City Schools team, led by Mary Anne McMahon. The team consists of teachers, janitors, administrators, nurses and other staff members. "It's really a joint effort," said McMahon.
Currently, one teacher and one staff member from Niles City Schools are battling cancer.
"We have lost co-workers to cancer. We have lost family members to cancer," McMahon said, explaining the team's motivation.
The team's fundraising efforts this year include selling pepperoni rolls and Relay T-shirts. The school system also holds mini-Relays in each school for the younger students.
"We're glad we can do it," McMahon said.
A much newer team is the one from First United Methodist Church in Niles.
"We really like doing it," said David McDonald, the church's pastor.
The team captain is Elaine Walker.
"Elaine is really the driving force behind a lot of the things we do for Relay," McDonald said.
The team is only in its second year at the Niles Relay, and is already making a tradition. Every year, during the week before the Niles Relay, the church holds its own luminaria ceremony, similar to the one at the actual Relay event. The team sells luminaries as a fundraiser, so the church holds a ceremony where they light the luminaries and display pictures of the people the luminaries are in memory of. After the church's ceremony, the staff take the luminaries to the Niles Relay for use in the luminaria ceremony.
Other fundraisers for the First United Methodist Church team include a spaghetti dinner and selling Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies.
Relay is an important event for the church, as many members have been affected by cancer. McDonald's father is also a survivor.
The team's theme this year is a patriotic one. Their slogan is, "We pledge to cure cancer," and their booth will be decorated with lots of red, white and blue.
In addition, one team member will be dressed as Lady Liberty and another as Uncle Sam. McDonald said the member to be dressed as Uncle Sam has even started growing a beard.