ORONO, Maine — Despite nearly steady precipitation, a stagnant economy, and a move from its home of 17 years, the 18th annual Relay for Life of Penobscot exceeded its fundraising goal by at least $16,000 in the battle against cancer.
“Our net amount raised last year was $173,000, so the goal this year was $176,000, and as of noon today, we had a gross amount confirmed of $192,000,” Old Town native Chad LaBree, Relay for Life co-chairman, said Saturday.
The event was held at the University of Maine’s Morse Field in Orono this year after being held at Old Town High School last year.
The 18-hour event running Friday night and Saturday also drew more its highest-ever number of participating teams with 91, exceeding the goal of 85. Individually, that number translates to more than 8,000 relay participants.
One of the 91 teams, MJ Caps of Brewer, raised $23,908 to earn bragging rights for the highest amount.
MJ Caps team member Andrew Sekera, an Eddington native now living in Rockland, Mass., and working for Energy Services Group, earned high individual honors with at least $5,810 in pledges in just his second year as a Relay for Life participant.
“My uncle’s been doing this for years after my aunt died, and I always wanted to participate, but last year was the year I finally did,” said Sekera, who drove to Orono after work and arrived at 11 p.m. Friday. “I didn’t put a lot of effort into it; I just sent out some emails and got just under $1,000.”
Due to even better responses this year, Sekera found himself changing his fundraising goal for the American Cancer Society constantly.
“This year, I put my goal at $1,000. I got that right away, so I put it to $2,000, then $2,500, and then $5,000 as I kept getting more,” he said. “Yesterday, I upped it to $6,500. I think I still have some more stuff coming in the next few days, so I’m hopeful for more.”
Sekera credited the Internet and technology, as well as co-workers, for his successful fundraising effort.
“And I didn’t even use Facebook for this. My co-workers were super supportive and generous this year,” he said.
Like most participants, organizers and volunteers, Sekera and LaBree have personal reasons for investing their time and effort in the annual event.
“My aunt died of mesothelioma, my grandmother died of leukemia, my grandfather died of kidney cancer, my dad had prostate and skin cancer. It’s in the family,” said Sekera. “It used to be when you were walking on the track, everybody knew at least one person with cancer, and now everyone knows five or six, it’s so prevalent.”
Every relay participant has a unique story, but they all participate for the same reason.
“My family’s been riddled with cancer,” said LaBree. “Maine’s one of the states that has the highest rates of cancer per capita in the country. Whether it’s family, friends or co-workers, we’re all affected.”
The event was moved from Old Town High to UMaine due to overwhelming support and participation of community members.
“Even the people who were quite nervous or were most hesitant about moving admitted it went really well,” said LaBree.
The overnight event involves individuals and teams camping out at the relay site with the goal of keeping at least one team member walking or running on the track at all times throughout the evening and next day for 18 hours. Individuals collect monetary pledges from individuals and businesses for completing the relay.
Despite rain, mist, constant clouds, humidity and chill, organizers and participants alike kept smiling throughout the event, and the final symbolic lap around the track brought out emotion in many participants.
“I got a little misty on that last lap because I saw quite a few people tearing up a bit,” Sekera said. “They come together and share pain and offer support.”
Another cancer care fundraiser, the first-ever Chefs Gone Wild benefit hosted by Muddy Rudder restaurant in Brewer, raised a total of $5,000 with 68 people paying $50 apiece to enjoy a five-course meal prepared tableside by six area chefs.
“It’s a good match because it helps us raise money for both the Oncology Support Project and my organization, the American Culinary Foundation,” said Muddy Rudder chef Dave Smith.
Smith said the meal, featuring hors d’oeuvres , lobster ravioli, pear salad with Gorgonzola, fillet mignon oscar, and a flourless chocolate tort, was a big hit with diners.
“We need to look for a bigger venue in Bangor now because we believe once word gets out about this, we’ll draw double or triple the number of people next year,” said Smith. “This is definitely going to be an annual event.”
The Oncology Support Project of Healthcare Charities provides direct assistance to local cancer patients and their families who may be facing medial, financial and emotional challenges. The ACF provides scholarships for culinary students.