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Enthusiastic relay members raise more than $16,000 during American Cancer Society event

Cancer survivors followed by other participants take the first lap around the track.

Cancer survivors followed by other participants take the first lap around the track.

A tired but enthusiastic field of walkers joined together for the final lap of the June 24-25 Relay for Life at the El Cerrito High School track. Upon completing the lap, they learned they had raised more than $16,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Event organizers were surprised and pleased with the total. It was near their original goal but unexpected because it was raised by just 10 teams while they originally estimated they'd draw 15.

A big boost came from the team consisting of the El Cerrito City Council, staff and friends. The team, organized by Councilwoman Kathie Perka, had more than 20 members and raised the most money. The group brought in almost $5,200. Team member Diane Nakano raised the most of any relay participant, bringing in $840. The team garnered a third award when Employee Services Manager Sandy Chapek, who was responsible for recruiting many of her co-workers at city hall for the team, aced an American Cancer Society test.

The Big Cancer Curing Kahunas, also known as the Mullarkey-Gamba family of Albany, were honored for having the best decorated tent, a Hawaiian theme that carried over to their attire as well.

Also represented on teams were the city of Albany, Albany High, the Albany Lions, the School for the Deaf in Fremont, and the Kiwanis of Albany and Berkeley.

The event opened 10 a.m. Saturday. After brief speeches, cancer survivors led walkers on the first lap around the field. Throughout the day, walkers and runners continued around the track. Teams were charged with keeping at least one member on the track at all times during the 24-hour event. Live and recorded music, a comedian, bubble blowing, water fights, Frisbee, soccer practice, a booth to supply food and cold drinks to participants, entertainer Madame Ovary and a book sale booth added to the festive atmosphere.

By early afternoon Saturday, four of El Cerrito's five council members -- Perka, Janet Abelson, Mayor Mark Friedman and Gina Brusatori --had taken a turn around the track, as well as Stege Sanitary directors Bea O'Keefe (also an El Cerrito planning commissioner) and Al Miller (also a co-chair of El Cerrito's Committee of the Whole).

Tents sprouted up on the football field throughout the day in preparation for the overnight shift, and luminaries set up to prepare for an after dark event. The luminaries, made by putting sand and a candle in a paper bag, lined the track and spelled out "Hope" in the stands. They were used in a ceremony to honor cancer survivors and to remember those who lost their battle against cancer. That ceremony also included a torch run.

As the night wore on the music was shut down and the activity slowed but never stopped. Those camped out took turns walking while others showed up in the late night and early morning hours to spell teammates.

Perka and city employees Nakano, Chapek, Alicia Ramos-Banales, Gina Magno and family members camped out overnight. Other such as Maintenance and Engineering Services Manager Bruce King, Park and Recreation Commissioner Brenda Navellier and City Attorney Howard Stern were among those coming in for early morning shifts.

Any late pledges can be mailed to the Cancer Society at 1700 Webster St., Oakland, CA 94612. (Contact Janna Katz at jkatz@cancer.org or 832-7012.)

Relay For Life is the national signature event of the American Cancer Society. It began in 1985 when a Tacoma, Washington physician decided to walk a track for 24 hours to raise money for cancer research. Today the event has grown to more than 2,800 events nationwide and will raise more than $175 million for cancer research, services and education. There were 80 Relay For Life events in California this year. This was the first for Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito and Kensington.

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is a major public health problem that affects one out of two men and one out of three women. More than 130,000 Californians will be diagnosed this year. While more people are surviving cancer than ever before, the survival rate is still only 53 percent.

Run dates: 2000-06-24 - 2000-07-11

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