Youth Relay for Life to celebrate 'superhero' cancer survivors
The theme for the 2013 Youth Relay for Life is “Superheroes.”
Many of the students who take part Friday will be dressed as Superman and Batman.
But event organizer Jody Cheplic knows who the real super heroes are.
“The survivors — because of everything that they've gone through. The survivors are the reason we relay,” Cheplic said.
Cheplic is the sponsor for the Youth Relay for Life, which will take place Friday at the Charleroi Area High School stadium. More than 750 students comprising 80 teams from the Charleroi Area, Ringgold, Belle Vernon Area, Elizabeth Forward and Frazier school districts will participate.
Cheplic said the “hero” who stands out to her is four-time cancer survivor Sally Browning of Carroll Township, a relay committee woman since the inception of the youth event.
“It's just everything she's been through, and she doesn't let it get her down,” Cheplic said. “She keeps bouncing back.”
Browning lost her mother to cancer in 1983, and a year later was diagnosed with breast cancer – the first of three bouts with the disease over the next 17 years. In 2005, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
Her husband, Ellsworth, has battled prostate cancer for the past three years.
Now, oldest daughter, Beth, has stage 4 colon cancer that has spread to her liver.
“We're making plans to bring her and her 11-year-old son home for her final days,” Browning said.
As cancer has hit home, the cause has hit home for Browning too.
“From day one, 29 years ago, if I could help one other person then it was worth it to get on that box and talk,” Browning said.
“I was never one to hide. I do not want other women to go through what I went through. I believe Pap smears and mammograms are important and yet there are women who still don't do it.”
Browning said she is inspired by the students' efforts.
“It just helps to get them started early and understand the important role of trying to raise money for a reason,” Browning said.
“It's helped me a lot to know that they're involved. This year's goal is $80,000. Last year, the event raised $67,000.”
Youth relay benefits the American Cancer Society.
Students sell food, sponsor games, and play sports on the football field.
Registration for survivors starts at 5 p.m. The survivor celebration starts at 6 p.m., including a lap around the track and dinner.
The luminary ceremony is being dedicated to the Rev. Jim Linn, of the First Christian Church in Fallowfield Township. Luminaries are sold for $5 each in honor of individuals who have succumbed to the disease. The candles are lined up along the track fence.
Linn has been a cancer survivor since age 19 in 1979 and has been at the First Christian Church since 1996.
He was diagnosed with glioma — a name applied to brain and spinal cord tumors — in December.
Linn served as a reader at luminary ceremonies in Monessen for six years for the Relay for Life.
Cheplic first became involved in Youth Relay in the fall of 2000. Her sister-in-law, Roberta Doerfler, read in The Valley Independent that a committee was being formed.
Doerfler's son, Brett, was diagnosed with cancer in 1998 and is a survivor.
“We went to the meeting and that was it for me. It must have been my calling,” Doerfler said.
Cheplic said she still gets satisfaction out of the event.
“I love working with the kids,” Cheplic said. “I think it's very important for the kids to give back to those who can't help themselves. It's an important lesson they're learning by doing this. I can't tell you how many kids who did relay in high school, graduate and come back.”
Cheplic said she receives text messages and phone calls from students who have graduated asking when the Relay is so they can make plans to return for it. Many local students have established relays at such universities as Waynesburg, California, Pitt and Slippery Rock.
Cheplic has had friends and family members touched by cancer. For her, the survivor event is especially moving.
“I don't think I ever leave there without crying,” Cheplic said.
Charleroi Area senior Mitch Woytovich has been involved with Relay for Life throughout high school.
He is the student chairman for this year's event.
“I wanted do something and contribute back to something bigger than myself,” Woytovich said. “I like knowing that I'm helping people and helping survivors enjoy the day's events.”
Woytovich said Kevin McClellan and his father will be members of Woytovich's relay team. They will honor Kevin McClellan's mother, who recently died from cancer.
“It's touching to see them involved in relay,” Woytovich said.
Members of Woytovich's 30-member team will be dressed in various superhero costumes. It is fitting for an event filled with heroes.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.