Many participants say they're honoring a friend or family member who died of cancer.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
NILES -- The night hours were the most difficult for Arlene Skeliski, Vanessa Stewart and Erica Mueller.
While most people were in bed Friday night, the three were persuading themselves to keep circling the track at Bo Rein Stadium as part of the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life.
Then the sun came up.
"When the sun comes up, you really do see beauty," said Skeliski, of Youngstown. This one, she said, marked a "new beginning" of their efforts to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Skeliski, Stewart, of Youngstown, and Mueller, of McDonald, were among the six relay participants who walked the entire 24 hours of the event into Saturday evening.
The three took a 15-minute break every hour for food and restroom breaks.
Mueller said she expected to walk about 50 miles in the relay this year.
Friday marked the start of the first of several Relays for Life in Mahoning, Trumbull or Columbiana counties.
Relays also were held in Austintown and Cortland during the weekend.
Each begins at 6 p.m. Friday and runs until 6 p.m. Saturday.
Forty-one teams of about 15 members each participated in the Niles relay, said Kathy Hildack, co-chairman of the event with Jodi Riedel. Several people not on teams also walked.
The teams, which represent local schools, organizations and businesses, are each asked to keep at least one person walking on the track during the entire event.
Each team member is asked to raise a minimum of $100 for cancer research and programs.
Hildack said the society hoped to raise at least $90,000 through the Niles relay.
Why they participate
Many relay participants said they were walking to honor a friend or family member who died from cancer.
When asked why he was walking, Anthony Altobelli, 14, of Niles pointed to the drawing on his T-shirt of a family friend.
Trevor Bonacci, also of Niles, said his family had formed a team in honor of his grandmother. Bonacci said the family has raised $2,500 each year they've participated in the relay.
"Not only can they help, they're having a good time doing it," Hildack said.
Stephanie Enasko of Warren said she likes to walk to relieve stress. Her father died of cancer.
"I'm hoping some day they'll find a cure," she said.
Wearing head-sets, riding wheelchairs and strollers, with friends and alone, close to 1,000 people joined the Austintown relay, according to Carol Dambrogio of the local ACS office.
"In some way, shape or form, cancer affects us all. It may not be your father or mother or brother or sister. It could be your friend or co-worker," said Melissa Bohr, co-chairman of the event at Fitch Stadium.
Event has grown
This year's Austintown event grew dramatically from last year -- from 46 to 73 teams. Jessica Moorehead, 15, told the Austintown crowd how cancer affected her life.
Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in September 1999, she has been cancer-free since January after a successful bone marrow transplant. Her message was to find something to focus on and keep a positive attitude.
"For me, the hardest thing was missing school and everything that goes along with that," she said. "Then I saw how my family had supported me and helped me. I was tutored and determined to not fall behind."
A sophomore at Ursuline High School with a 3.897, Jessica said her experience was not all negative.
"It gave me an opportunity to get closer to a lot more people. I hope others can keep a positive focus to help them to not give up hope."
XCONTRIBUTOR: Tracie Knight Balentine, Vindicator correspondent