More than 200 Islanders gathered Saturday morning to take part in the eleventh annual Relay for Life of Martha’s Vineyard. On a cool, breezy day with nearly-summer sunshine, residents of all ages were in high spirits as they walked laps around the regional high school track.
The walkathon, a fundraiser the American Cancer Society, commenced with an opening ceremony at 1 p.m.. Upbeat music played through the speakers to set the mood as participants excitedly walked their first laps.
Later in the afternoon, a special ceremony honored the survivors in attendance. Eighth grader Samantha Cassidy, who is now five years cancer free, and her parents gave speeches about what it was like when Samantha got diagnosed and how the Vineyard helped their family push through the difficult times.
Following the speeches, all survivors present at the relay walked a special lap to celebrate their personal victories over cancer. They were then treated to an informal luncheon at the survivors tent.
Teams planning to camp out all night showed off their festively decorated tents, which lined the inside of the track. Many featured creative fundraisers, including silent auctions, games and even a lip-syncing competition. A moon bounce was set up for children to donate a few dollars to gain two minutes of jumping time.
Participants who were taking a break from walking could be found playing tossing a football or cheering on their friends as they walked by. Members of the Rotary Club volunteered their culinary expertise, grilling burgers and hot dogs for all to enjoy.
At nightfall, luminarias decorated with the names of those touched by cancer were placed along the border of the track. White bags symbolized those who lost the battle while purple bags honored survivors.
At 9 p.m., everyone gathered for an official luminaria ceremony. Members of the Martha’s Vineyard Relay committee took turns reflecting on the past year, placing a purple glow stick on a cake structure for every month during the year that loved ones are missed.
Directly following, all participants walked a silent lap around the track. A bagpiper led the way, playing Amazing Grace.
When the lap was complete, some returned to their campsites to reflect and enjoy the starry sky, while others remained on the track.
Participants took turns walking on through the night in loving remembrance of those no longer with us and in fond celebration of those who still are.
The event concluded early Sunday morning with a Fight Back celebration.