BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – The Berkeley Heights Relay for Life kicked off yesterday at Governor Livingston High School with over 1,000 people from Berkeley Heights and neighboring communities coming together to raise money to fight cancer.

At 3pm in the afternoon, tents began rising up from the ground on Governor Livingston’s baseball field, and people were setting up different attractions that would come to life later that night. 

This year, Berkeley Height Relay for Life had set a goal of raising more than $300,000.  That goal was reached two days before the event began.

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The record 1,178 registered participants actually raised a little more that $333,000, a $57,000 increase from last year. This year’s Relay also marked the community’s 10th year of participating in this American Cancer Society event.

As all teams settled in Tent City, with colorful banners bearing team names and decorations that would later be judged for their creativity, participants began to flood the football field and stadium for the Opening Ceremony at 6 pm.  With an opening statement from Relay chairperson Linda Weber, the event began, and 10 cancer survivors were introduced, representing Relay’s 10 years in Berkeley Heights.  After sharing who they were and describing their battles with cancer, they stated, “I am a relayer.  I am hope.” 

To never give up hope is an important theme of Relay for Life, and was echoed by Berkeley Heights Mayor Joe Bruno.  On seeing the hundreds of new youth participants at Relay, he said assuredly, “I know we’re in good hands based on what we see here today.”  

The Ceremony also welcomed Sean Waller, a cancer survivor, teacher, and author of the book “Sick Boy”, which was on sale at the event for $10. Half of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the American Cancer Society.  Mr. Waller credited his survival mainly to luck, as many people he knew battling cancer did not survive.  Mr. Waller asked the crowd, “How many of you have played the Powerball?”  Nearly every adult raised his or her hand. “Now how many of you have won?”  No hands were raised this time. “That’s right,” he said confidently, “Now that’s luck. Our goal of tonight is to eliminate luck from the equation.”

The Opening Ceremony was concluded with the Survivors Lap: the community’s cancer survivors proudly wore their designated purple shirts, medals, and carried a banner as every Relay participant clapped and cheered them on.  As the teams joined them on the track, the sheer enormity of the event could be comprehended.

Team Captain Scotland Preston said of the event, “The increase of youth participation this year is stunning, and teaches lots of great values including volunteerism, dedication, and responsibility in both an inspiring and fun environment.  Many of us are able to spend time with friends while supporting an important cause.”

This year’s chairperson of the event, Linda Weber, has been participating in Relay for Life for 4 years.  She says that heading an event this large is a lot of work.  She told The Alternative Press, “The most important part is to get a lot of people excited, but since the message is universal, it’s not difficult to get people involved. “  She said that Relay involves, “The coming together of community and generations for those we love to increase awareness, advocacy, and the effort to ensure the world of more birthdays.”

The Luminaria Ceremony began at 9:30 pm in the stadium, to begin for many of the participants, an all-nighter.  Audience members were given glow sticks, and asked to crack them upon hearing the names of the people they were representing that evening, whether siblings, parents, friends, grandparents, or other loved ones. 

As all participants lined the track for their silent lap, in memory of all those who lost their battle with cancer, it became clear that Friday night’s events were actually the ultimate celebration of life.  This event unites thousands of community members in the fight against cancer, to ensure the world of more birthdays, and to make winning the battle with cancer a more obtainable goal for all.