Relay for Life provides fun and funds

Cancer survivors complete the “Survivors Lap” during the opening ceremonies of the Relay for Life Friday night at the Dillon Elementary School complex


Hope, Fun, Courage and Love formed the winning relay team for the ninth straight year at the Southwestern Montana Relay for Life around the track of Dillon Middle School on Friday night and Saturday morning, when hundreds gathered to raise money for the American Cancer Society and celebrate their neighbors and loved ones who have battled cancer.

“We are here to honor cancer survivors, and to celebrate their courage and strength and willingness to fight back, while raising money to help create more survivors,” said 2013 Southwestern Montana Relay for Life chair Diana Brown, who reported that this year’s event in Dillon set a new record by raising over $32,000.

“This community is amazing. I’ve lived here 29 years and it always amazes me how it supports everything and everyone,” said Brown, who received a standing ovation and bouquet of flowers for her efforts at the event’s closing ceremony on Saturday morning.

“I really appreciated all the work that Diana Brown and all the other volunteers put into this,” commented longtime Dillon resident Jennifer McKay, who was diagnosed with cancer in April. 

“It’s a great event that raises money for a great cause. And they make this event a whole lot of fun.”

That fun began Friday afternoon with a parade through downtown Dillon and continued for the next 14+ hours with a wide array of activities based on and around the Dillon Middle School track.

Hundreds gathered by the classic car show outside Dillon Middle School for the Community Hamburger and Hot Dog BBQ dinner served up Friday evening.

Before and after dinner, kids lined up to take shots at sending law enforcement officers and other local VIPs splashing into the chilly dunk tank situated next to the track.

Later in the evening, some of those kids got their watery comeuppance while competing in the ever-challenging water balloon volleyball competition. 

A dirigible full of water couldn’t have doused the fiery Friday night dance showdown between Trent Wahl and Ken Kuchler for Mr. Relay, a title claimed by Wahl after a timely hip check interrupted Kuchler’s impressive grass-skirt dancing display.

Nearby, specially trained members of the Dillon Girls Group relay team demonstrated the all-but-forgotten martial art of pillow fighting, while others tried their hand at perhaps the world’s most challenging martial art—blindfolded piñata whacking.

Other forms of fun helped inspire walkers throughout the night with special competitions like dodge ball, the Limbo Lap, Funky Dance Lap, Scrabble Lap, Balloon Relay and the Poker Run. 

Relay teams also brought their own brands of fun to lighten the night: 

Led by Lori Ball, the Barrett Hospital and Healthcare Rays sold bear insurance (no claims were filed), told ghost stories and served smores at their award-winning campsite;

Kristy Hutchinson’s indefatigable Beaverhead Education Association team sold glow-in-the-dark accessories, worked hard to help keep the luminaries surrounding the track lit on an often windy night and still found the time and energy to earn the Most Feet on the Track All Night Long trophy;

Diana Brown’s Diana’s Daycare crew provided Plinko and emerged as the top fundraising team, with almost eight thousand dollars in pledges, led by 2013 individual champ Mary Bearden, who collected $3767.50 in donations;

Da Beavs, captained by Brown’s daughter Kelsey Brown, challenged all comers with a Basketball Shoot;

Julee Shamhart’s United Way team served up Memory Boxes;

Arlis Vannett’s Gorgeous Girl Scouts entertained with Campfire Songs and decorated with Beaded Ribbons; 

Jacqi McKnight’s Youth Challenge squadron also beautified their surroundings by opening an all-night Nail Painting salon;

and led by the Women’s Resource Center’s Melainya Ryan, the Dillon Girls’ Group won the Traveling Trophy as the team that best used theme and energy, while also operating a dojo to teach students pillow fighting and how to “Fight Like A Girl: Fight Cancer.”

Other teams participating in Relay for Life included: Armstrong’s Army, commanded by Diane Armstrong; Dillon Assembly, led by Ryan Spurlock; Renea Martinson’s Great Harvest Franchising breadwinners; Hannah Kincheloe’s 14-strong Murdochs crew; the Wells Fargo battalion captained by Shawn Watkins; the Shine Studio troupe, choreographed by Cindy Ann Wood; and Melissa Welborn’s Purple Warriors, whose attire communicated the event’s “Purple Power” battle cry. 

The team that made the whole event possible, the Southwest Montana Relay for Life event committee amped up the energy early in the event with a special dance routine, led by Brown, to the song “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson.

“They were beyond amazing,” said Brown of the members of the 2013 Southwestern Montana Relay for Life event committee, which included: Lori Ball; Debbie O’Neil; Misti Wahl; Ashley Arp; Leslee Amos; Diane Armstrong; Dawn Harvey; Mike Miller; Jacqi McKnight; Russ Schwandt; Nikki Cottom; Nicole Anderson; C.J. Harlan; and Kelsey Brown.

“Almost everyone on the committee in the past year had some life-altering event—like a vehicle accident, serious illness, the loss of a dear friend.  Yet they dealt with what life was dealing them and were still there one hundred percent volunteering for Relay for Life. 

“That’s amazing,” said Brown, who also credited her husband, Cody, and daughter, Kelsey, with playing key roles in helping her organize Relay for Life.

“Cody and Kelsey had to sacrifice a lot over the past year. So many nights, they’d ask ‘what’s for dinner?’ and I’d just shrug my shoulders. They saw a lot of our evenings together sacrificed, ran a lot of errands. If I asked, they did it. I could not have done it without their support.”

Mach 1’s Kyle and Troy Halter helped support energy and mood levels throughout the long night of Relay for Life with an upbeat, customized soundtrack played over a high-tech sound system set up on the track’s infield.

“It was great to be able to help motivate the walkers,” said Halter, who made the trip from Bozeman to take part in his first Relay for Life.

All the music and fun served to not only help keep participants’ spirits high, but to also set off the inherently serious aspects of Relay for Life., which was highlighted by, among other things: inspirational speeches by cancer survivors Betty Alm and Deb Robinson, a past Relay for Life chair; a Luminaries Ceremony; a special Survivor Lap to honor those who have battled cancer; a Caregiver Lap to acknowledge those who have helped survivors through that battle; and a Face Your Hope ceremony that saw survivors turn and face fellow survivors who had successfully battled cancer for a longer period of time than they had.

“She is my hope,” said three-month cancer survivor McKay of her mother, Maxine Mahony, who anchored the Face Your Hope ceremony as a 27-year cancer survivor.

“That ceremony was really impressive,” said Mahony, who stood at one end of the long line of survivors while her daughter stood at the other end. 

“I got choked up during it,” added Mahony, who also held the Relay for Life banner with her daughter during the Survivor Lap and plans on coming down from her home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, again next year to participate in Southwest Montana Relay for Life. 

“It was very special for me to participate in this event with my mother and walk the Survivor Lap with her while carrying the banner,” added McKay, who was also joined at Relay for Life by her husband Tater, her children Ty and Jordyn, stepdad Jack Mahony, and her aunts Claris Yuhas and Veronica Bolick.

McKay said the event was also important in helping her gain wisdom and strength from her fellow local cancer survivors.

“It is unbelievable how many women in Dillon have had breast cancer,” commented McKay, whose father grew up in Dillon and whose grandparents farmed and ranched in the area.

“From having lived here, I knew some of the women, but I have learned of so many more since being diagnosed myself,” said McKay, the office manager for the local Department of Natural Resources and Conservation office.

“It is very helpful to talk to other survivors. Even though each one of us is different, some of the things we have gone through are similar. It definitely helps to talk about those experiences with them and know that these women have survived and serve as inspirations for other women like me to keep fighting.”

Brown agreed that the unique networking opportunities the event affords cancer survivors rates as one of Relay for Life’s key contributions.

“One of the many things I love about the Relay for Life is that everybody has a story about why they are there, because cancer has affected them in one way or another. So it’s a safe place to tell your story, because you know someone else here gets it because they are a survivor, or have been a caregiver who helped someone through their journey, or lost someone they loved to cancer” observed Brown, who lost her father to cancer in 2008.

“At Relay for Life, when someone says, ‘I understand,’ it’s because they do, not because they don’t know what else to say.”

Proceeds from the event, half of which are earmarked to stay in Montana, according to Brown, will in part go to fund: a hotline survivors can call to gain advice and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week; the Road to Recovery program, which provides free rides for people to get out-of-town treatment; a lodging program; Look Good, Feel Good, which helps chemotherapy survivors with wigs and turbans, along with skin care and makeup products and advice during its bi-monthly local meetings.

The largest portion of the proceeds will go to help fund research seeking a cure for cancer, according to Brown, who started participating in the Southwest Montana Relay for Life as a relay team member in 2008, before forming her own relay team in 2010, joining the event committee in 2011 and this past year becoming event chair, a position she will continue to hold through the 2014 Southwest Montana Relay for Life.

“I really enjoy this event,” concluded Brown. “But some day, I hope a cure has been found for cancer and none of us have to do this anymore.”