HUNDREDS of people cheered and some cried as cancer survivors, wearing purple sashes, opened the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life on Friday with a walk around the track at Howard Community College in Columbia. In its seventh year, Howard County's Relay for Life raises funds for cancer research and patient services.
More than 125 teams of eight to 15 people collected pledges and kept at least one member on the track from 6:30 p.m. Friday until 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Most set up tents on the track's infield and enjoyed the camaraderie and entertainment associated with the event.
Lori Woods, a co-chair of the event, said that more than $320,000 was raised for the cancer society during this year's Relay for Life.
More than 300 people who have battled cancer participated in the opening lap - the Survivors' Walk. For some, it was an emotional moment; for others, an opportunity to celebrate recovery.
Elaine Viggiano of Sykesville was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago.
"It really means a lot to see all the people participating," she said. "I look at how many survivors there are and realize how far we've come to even see this many survivors. It gives hope to a lot of families."
Simone Jarvis of Owings Mills waited to join the Survivors' Walk with her daughter, Jessica, 13. Simone was diagnosed with a brain tumor seven years ago. Jessica held a sign that read, "My Mom is a survivor. I love you Mom."
Simone said she was encouraged to see so many cancer survivors. "You don't realize how many people are affected by this disease," she said. "This event does a lot for cancer research, but it's upsetting, too. It's very emotional."
Throughout the evening, members of a team who call themselves "The Lifeguards" offered rickshaw rides around the track for a $1 donation. Founded by Mark Eberhart of Reston, Va., the team has participated in Relay for Life since 1998.
Five years ago, Eberhart, 30, underwent two surgeries and radiation to treat a synovial sarcoma of the leg.
Doctors gave the former Atholton High School champion cross-country runner little chance to walk normally after his treatment.
Dressed in an outfit that included a grass skirt and black top hat, Eberhart ran around the track during the Survivors' Walk, blowing a whistle and laughing. His teammates cheered him from the sidelines, blowing whistles and making jungle calls over a bullhorn.
This year's team captain, Matt Nagle of Ellicott City, said, "We try to focus on not only raising money, but also thinking of things to make it fun. We think both are important because making it fun is what makes us want to come back each year."
Eberhart said the team's name has nothing to do with swimming. "We're saving lives because we're making money to give to the American Cancer Society," he said.
Most of Eberhart's teammates are members of his college fraternity. His father, Russ Eberhart of Indianapolis, said the Lifeguards stayed by Mark's side throughout his treatment for cancer.
"There wasn't a day when there weren't a half-dozen people with him in the hospital," he said. "These guys were his support group when he was in surgery."
The Lifeguards have earned a reputation for keeping Relay for Life lively through the wee hours of the morning.
"They are a lot of fun, that's for sure," said Woods. "They had a trumpet that they blew every hour as they ran around the track and they had music going all night."
The Lifeguards solicited a donation of 50 sets of earplugs to offer to fellow campers Friday night in exchange for contributions to the American Cancer Society.
"It's amazing to see all the people who come out," Woods said. "This year, we seemed to have so many young kids. It's neat to see every age participate."
Kitch sets standard
Valerie Kitch, principal's secretary at Clemens Crossing Elementary School, has earned the title of Certified Educational Office Employee.
The National Association of Educational Office Professionals certified her to put the letters "CEOE" after her name.
"It's recognizing work I've done over the last 22 years," Kitch said. "The real reason I did it is to be a role model in Howard County."
The professional standards program was established to encourage professional growth among educational office employees. Certified educational office employees achieve their status through participation in professional activities, educational programs and workshops.
Kitch will be honored at the National Association of Educational Office Professionals conference next month in South Carolina.
The Harper's Choice Community Association is sponsoring Sandbox Socials for children ages 5 and younger and their parents. The group meets at the tot lot near the Swansfield pool at 4:30 p.m. Fridays.
Information: Cathy Murphy at 410- 730-3888.