The Upshur County Relay for Life kicks off their event Saturday evening at Jawbone Park in Buckhannon with a survivor lap followed by a caregiver lap and a parade of teams. This was the 25th year for the Upshur County Relay for Life and their theme was ‘Cheers to 25 Years.’ According to the American Cancer Society Relay for Life webpage, across the country more than 4 million people take part in Relay events in more than 5,000 communities across the United States and to date, Relay Events have raised nearly $5 billion. / Photo by Beth Christian Broschart

‘It got in our blood’: Upshur Relay for Life founder recalls what spurred her to organize the first of many Relays to come

BUCKHANNON – Cancer survivors, caregivers, family, friends and advocates gathered at Jawbone Park Saturday evening to celebrate 25 years of Upshur County’s Relay for Life which has raised approximately $2.2 million for the American Cancer Society over the years.

Robin Oldaker, an Upshur County Relay for Life organizer, invited those gathered to enjoy food and games and check out the luminary sales and live music. She said following the survivor and caregiver laps, survivors and a guest could enjoy a meal, which had been provided by Davis Health System.

During the event, Upshur County Relay for Life founder, Crystal Shaw, shared her story of becoming involved with the American Cancer Society and kickstarting Relay for Life in Upshur County. She said when this all started 25 years ago, it was something most folks had not heard of in Upshur County.

“There were Relays for Life in some of the bigger towns in West Virginia like Charleston, Parkersburg and Clarksburg,” Shaw said. “I kept hearing about Relay for Life and raising money for cancer awareness on the radio. Our mother was going through cancer and I felt like we needed to do something. We could not do anything more for our mother than what we were doing, but I wanted to do something.”

Shaw said there was a number to call at the end of the radio commercial for more information.

“That very day, someone from the American Cancer Society was speaking at our Chamber of Commerce meeting,” Shaw learned when she called the number. “I was going to the Chamber meeting and it ended up we connected and started the Relay for Life in Upshur County. We began planning in May and had our first Relay that year in July. It got in our blood and we could not stop.”

Shaw said the Upshur County Relay for Life events started at the Buckhannon-Upshur High School stadium, moved to the Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School and eventually found their home at Jawbone Park.

“Over the years we have watched it evolve, but the presence and education are still here,” Shaw said. “We are still raising money for research and hoping to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Shaw explained what the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life is and what it does.

“Relay for Life is a life-changing event that brings together millions of people around the world to celebrate the lives of those who have battled cancer; to remember those loved ones we have lost, and to empower individuals and communities to fight back against a disease that takes too much from too many,” Shaw said. “Relay is often described as a celebration of life – a celebration that can only be truly symbolized by the courage and spirit of the cancer survivors who proudly walk the first lap. The true VIPs of our Relay are the survivors.”

Dirk Burnside, who attended Saturday’s Upshur County Relay for Life, said his team, the Inlaws & Outlaws, is a family team that was formed in honor of his mother, Mary Burnside, who died of cancer.

“We have had a team since 1998, which is the year my mother died,” Burnside said. “She died from lung cancer.”

During Saturday’s Upshur County Relay for Life in celebration of 25 years, the Inlaws & Outlaws team decorated their tent with a T-shirt from each year of the Relay and attached a tag with the amount of money Upshur County Relay for Life raised during that year.

“We thought since this is the 25th year, we would decorate our campsite and remind everybody how much Upshur County has contributed to the fight against cancer by posting the amounts Upshur County has raised each month for the Relay,” Burnside said. “That is what you will see at our campsite this year.”

Burnside said he wanted to remind folks as they look forward 25 years, that it often seems like a long time.

“But if you look back 25 years, it seems like it was just yesterday,” Burnside said, laughing. “There have been more of us in the family who battled cancer through the years – my wife had colon cancer when she was 40 years old – so, it is never too early to pay attention to symptoms that pop up. Being checked and diagnosed is good and it is one of the informational items Relay for Life tries to promote – be aware.”

Oldaker said there were 12 Relay for Life teams, and the fundraising has been phenomenal this year.

“At this point, we are already over our goal, which was $30,000,” she said.

Additional information about the Relay for Life of Upshur County is available on their Facebook page or by contacting them via the email address upshurrelay@gmail.com.

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