A last-minute location move failed to dampen the spirits of those participating in this year’s “Relay for Life” here Saturday.
“I had worried that people were going to be so disappointed because the mood the night before was filled with excitement because they were so looking forward to this,” noted organizing committee chair Monica Sus.
“The number-one thing I was happy about was we were able to pull something together because I think there is nothing worse than being excited about something and then it just not happening,” she added.
And at one point Saturday, it certainly looked like the 12-hour fundraiser, which aims to celebrate life and fight cancer, might not happen.
Planned to be held at the Sorting Gap Marina in conjunction with the Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Festival, an early-morning storm that brought heavy rain and damaging winds wreaked havoc on the event site.
“I got a call from the dragon boat people on Saturday morning and they said everything has been blown down,” Sus recalled, noting they had set up everything—tents, tables, and chairs—on Friday night.
By the time she got to the site, the Dragon Boat Festival committee already had decided to postpone its event.
They then asked Sus if “Relay for Life” would join them on their back-up date of Sept. 17.
“I said I would definitely join them,” she remarked. “At this point, I figured there was no event.”
But Sus knew that food was coming from different businesses in town for the annual “Survivors’ Lunch.”
“And that food was probably half-made, so I knew we had to have the ‘Survivors’ Lunch’ no matter what,” she recounted.
Sus said From the Grind Up on Scott Street already had offered its location, but there only would be enough room for the survivors.
It was then that Coun. Wendy Brunetta arrived to participate in the dragon boat races, not knowing they had been cancelled.
And Sus asked her if there was anywhere “Relay” could move to.
“She got on her phone and called [Community Services manager] Jason Kabel,” she noted.
“She [Coun. Brunetta] came back 10 minutes later and said you’ve got the arena.
“By the time the rest of my committee gathered at 9:05 a.m., I already had a plan started,” said Sus, noting there now was a big job to do to clean up at the marina, set up at the Memorial Sports Centre, and get the word out about the venue change.
“Committee members got on the phone and had contacted all the survivors in about 15 minutes to let them know,” she remarked, adding they then went to the arena to start setting up while she stayed back at the marina.
“All of a sudden there were people there,” she recalled. “Some I knew, some I didn’t . . . but by 9:30 a.m., everything we had done the night before was totally cleaned up.
“I [then] went to the arena and everything was beyond what I could have imagined,” Sus enthused.
“It was all set up and looked beautiful.”
The 12 teams set up their booths in the upstairs auditorium, including the “I Am Awesome” food booth and the Bethel Baptist Church that offered up a pulled pork dinner (with funds going to “Relay for Life”).
Walking took place around the track in the ’52 Canadians Arena, which was lined with battery-operated luminaries, while some activities took place on the ice surface floor.
Staying on schedule, the “Survivors’ Lunch” was held in the auditorium, along with the opening ceremonies.
The Legion Ladies Auxiliary Br. #29 and the Rainy Lake Highlanders paraded through the auditorium and into the ’52 Canadians Arena, followed by the survivors for the “Survivors’ Lap.”
The day continued with a number of activities, including head-shaving, a three-legged race, a scavenger hunt, a frozen T-shirt contest, and a newspaper fashion show.
There also was entertainment provided by Ken Kellar and Wayne McIntyre, as well as a closing ceremony.
“I think with all that happened, it couldn’t have been better,” Sus stressed.
“What we missed on this event was the public,” she noted. “I thought we might do a little bit better being at the marina this year because there are so many people who walk by and we lost that.”
Nonetheless, Sus still is pleased with the more than $40,000 that was raised Saturday.
“$50,000 is always kind of my goal,” she admitted. “It’s a nice amount of money for the amount of teams we had, but you have to have the public.”
But she indicated “Relay” still is going to attend the re-scheduled Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Festival in September.
“I think we will make that extra amount at that time,” she reasoned. “We will still sell luminaries and we will still have fundraising going on.
“I think we’re going to meet our goal in the end but just in a different way.”
Sus said “Relay for Life” will have a booth there and try to recruit teams for next year.
“There will be no survivors’ ceremony or anything like that, but we will definitely be there and we will be in some of their ceremonies, which we were supposed to do anyway,” she remarked.
She added they kept most of the luminaries and will put them along the river that day.
Sus, meanwhile, said she plans on continuing with “Relay for Life” for next year, but they are looking at making some changes.
“We got lots of feedback and everybody said it has to be an indoor event,” she noted. “A lot of people don’t want to get involved because the weather is so unpredictable.
“In the next couple of days, we’ll be working on finding someplace . . . I’m going to talk to different people to see if we could have one of these facilities and have an indoor event,” she noted.
Sus said some people suggested they have everything on the ice surface floor.
“And I agree,” she added, though indicating that wasn’t thought of at the time when they made the quick location change Saturday.
Sus added they don’t want to change the date of the event.
“We like that weekend because school is out but people haven’t gone on holidays yet,” she reasoned.
“Over the years, our committee has looked at all the other weekends and we still like that weekend best, but the weather is never good.”
And with 2016 being the final year of the partnership between the Canadian Cancer Society and Riverside Foundation for Health Care, Sus said she would love to see the partnership renewed.
“But it isn’t really in our hands,” she conceded. “It’s in the Canadian Cancer Society’s hands.
“We feel that it really adds to the [local] event and we think that the people of Fort Frances respond better when they know that some of that money is coming directly to our community,” Sus said.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen as far as that’s concerned, but I’m going to do everything in my power.”
So far, more than $70,000 has been donated to Riverside from “Relay for Life” for cancer care in Rainy River District.
And Sus said she was especially pleased with everyone who helped out to make the event a success.
“If you saw the amount of work people did in one-and-a-half hours, it was unbelievable,” she noted. “And when it came to taking everything down, it was the same thing.
“I was doing other clean-up and thinking now I have to go into the walking path and pick up all the luminaries, but it was all down.
“That was the thing—people were unbelievably helpful.”
She added a thank you to Coun. Brunetta and Kabel because the event would have been cancelled without being offered an alternate location.
“They really made it happen and they made a lot of people very happy,” she remarked, saying the mood remained positive throughout the indoor event.
In fact, Sus had a couple of people already say they want to get involved next year.
“We are always looking for people,” she stressed. “We started off this year with three people—that’s all we had on our committee . . . and then we had to gather everyone else.
“So we’re always looking for people to help.”
Call Sus at 274-7043 if you want to get involved in planning next year’s “Relay for Life.”
She noted people also can register a team for next year already, adding there’s a discount for signing up early.