This is it - for those of us participating in the Warren Relay For Life event, those all-important 24 hours are just a few days away.
As for the Sweet Family and Friends, we're ready to go. Our T-shirts have been printed. We've completed our banner for the opening lap. We have items to raffle off, including an impressive gift card tree. (Stop by our tent this weekend and see for yourself!) Our tent decorations have been finalized, and we've put together a menu for our potluck dinner Friday night.
For those teams who might be planning for their first Relay, here are some tips for being fully prepared for the Relay For Life weekend.
l Dress for all weather. As many veterans will tell you, it always rains for Relay, or it least it seems that way. A glance at the Weather Channel's website shows that Friday is supposed to be rainy with scatter storms, while the prediction for Saturday is chilly with a chance of rain. Hey, it's May in northeast Ohio. A good rule of thumb is to dress in layers and bring rain gear and blankets, especially if you're planning on spending the full 24 hours at Relay. But don't forget the sunscreen either.
l Weatherproof your tent. If you've got a table set up at the front of your tent with raffle items, like many teams do, make sure your table isn't directly under the top tent flap. If the rain moves in, you're looking at water dripping on all those baskets you've assembled. Bring those tables in a little bit, keep your raffle items dry, and people might be tempted to wait out the rain in your tent ... while filling out raffle tickets. Also, it's a good idea to bring garbage bags or tarps to keep the rest of your stuff dry, or put up extra tables to keep things off the ground.
l Keep track of your walkers. The goal of Relay is to have a team member on the track for all 24 hours. Each year, the Sweet Family and Friends puts up a chart with times marked off in half-hour increments so team members can sign up to walk. This way, we can see at a glance who's on the track for us, who's up next, and that we still need someone to walk during that grueling 4-to-4:30 a.m. slot.
l Have a plan for the weekend events. Team captains should have a schedule of the different activities going on throughout the Relay For Life event, including the ever-popular Ms. Relay contest, team spirit laps, midnight snack contest and much, much more. If you'd like to participate in a particular contest, be prepared - don't be the team scrambling at 11 p.m. because Ms. Relay left "her" dress at home.
l ... But a little spontaneity can pay off. A few years ago, the Sweet Family and Friends chose an "Arabian Nights" theme with the slogan "Wishing for a cure." On a whim, I picked up some dates and figs when stocking up on Relay snacks - hey, they fit the theme. When the judges came by looking for our midnight snack, I dumped some figs and dates in a styrofoam bowl and handed them to the judges. "Since we have an 'Arabian Nights' theme, I offer you the fruits of Arabia," I announced. But I think it was the fortuitous glance at the packaging that really won the day: "These dates and figs also have cancer-fighting antioxidants," I informed the judges. We ended up winning a ribbon for our late-night snack. My cousin Maureen, who spent hours baking and icing cupcakes for the Warren G. Harding band team that year, still hasn't forgiven me.
l Bring a camera. Pictures make it easy to relive the memories of Relays past. I've got a great photo of my sisters and me at Relay a couple years ago that's hanging on the wall of my home. I've got some possibly incriminating photos of my brother as our Ms. Relay contestant a few years ago, and those classic shots of my cousin Chris sound asleep in our tent early in the morning.
Finally, the most important advice of all - have fun. Relay For Life is possibly the most uplifting, exhausting, inspiring weekend you'll ever experience, but it's also a lot of fun and for an excellent cause - the fight against cancer.
Wyko is features editor of the Tribune Chronicle. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org