Sept. 4, 2005 Saturday was the opening day of the 4th annual Relay for Life sponsored by the St. Croix Chapter of the American Cancer Society. Organizers said a record number of people participated by running walking, jogging or strolling leisurely around the track at the St. Croix Education Complex. "There are triple the number of people here than any other year," Lucie Rodriquez, Cancer Society luminary chair, said. The events began at 2 p.m. Saturday and will continue until 2 p.m. Sunday.
The scene was a lively one, with multi-colored tents dotting the grassy area inside the track. Local bands played and groups of teenagers tossed footballs and frisbees around the field. A man dress in an outrageously shaped red suit was weaving through the crowd. "I'm Mr. Colon Polyp," he said. "I live inside your colon, real quietly. I can be there and you won't know about me for years, and then I turn into cancer." The sinister character was Steve Abrants, president of the St. Croix American Association of Retired Persons, and volunteer, warning residents to get checked for colon cancer. "If you are over 50, you need to get checked every year," Abrants said.
As the sun began to set, volunteers placed paper bags with votive candles set in sand around the track. For a donation of $5 a loved one could honor a cancer survivor or remember a victim by putting their name on a bag. Soon hundreds of bags lined the inside and outside of the track. The remainder were placed on the bleachers overlooking the field spelling out the word "Hope." More than 1500 candles were lit, according to Rodriquez. After a short ceremony, the overhead lights on the field were lowered and the crowd, which had swelled to over one thousand, marched in darkness around to track in memory of those whose lives were touched by cancer.
Postmaster Louis A. Jackson, chairman of the public relations and marketing committee, said more than 40 teams had signed up to participate in this year's event. "The participation is phenomenal." He said this year's theme "Step it up" sent a message to the public to "accelerate the pace" to find a cure, to donate to the cause and to support the efforts of the cancer society. Dorothy Straun, a retired certified nurse and cancer survivor, is this years' relay committee chairperson.
Paul Andrews, president of St. Croix Rotary, was one of the walkers doing laps around the track Saturday afternoon. Andrews said he is a skin cancer survivor. "It's a good cause," he said. Andrews said the funds raised could improve the medical facilities on the island. "Then people will stay here when get to retirement."
Husband and wife Dr. Shirnett Williams and Dr. Derrick Grant came with a group of physicians and nurses from St. Thomas to take part in the event. The team works for the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute, which is scheduled to open in November on St. Thomas. The group set up a tent filled with information on cancer and the treatment programs that would be offered by the new center. "We want let everyone know the cancer institute is for the entire Virgin Islands," Williams, director of radiation oncology, said. "We will be conducting screenings and cancer clinics and provide some cancer care."
Awards were given out for the best decorated tent. The Luminaries took first place; second place went to St. Croix Clinical Lab and Generation Now came in third place. The tents were judged on creativity, effort and informational value, according to Jackson.
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