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Relay for Life Returns

The 10th annual Reston relay kicks off its fundraising drive.

For the average person, the thought of camping out on a high school football field and taking turns walking around the school's track 18 hours doesn't make someone smile from ear to ear. Victoria Reid is not an average person.

Reid was one of many cancer survivors on hand at the Microsoft building Monday night to help kick-off the 10th annual Reston Relay for Life, one of more than 3,000 worldwide American Cancer Society Relay for Life events this year. Looking to raise nearly half a million dollar for cancer research before June 1, the Reston relay officially opened its 2003 season Monday night.

"Cancer can be very lonely and some people will often feel like they are all alone," Reid said. Reid should know, in 1997 the owner of the Reston Used Bookshop in Lake Anne Plaza, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today, the cancer has spread into her bones, but despite her illness, her spirit remains upbeat and determined. "The relay is a chance to create a connection with like-minded people," she said. "You learn that you are not alone."

For those who have never experienced a Relay for Life, Reid said it can be a life-altering experience. "The day is such a range of emotions," she said. "Ultimately, it is a great way to come and get a little exercise and get to surround your self with this great community."

The American Cancer Society's annual Relay for Life in Reston will take place at South Lakes High School from May 31 until June 1. The relay is a community-wide event to raise money for cancer prevention education, research and patient services. The overnight event features teams of 8-15 people taking turns walking, jogging or running relay style around the South Lakes track. Along the infield, teams set up campsites and enjoy food and entertainment. Each relay includes the "Survivors Victory Lap" to open the event and the Luminaria (candle lighting) Ceremony just after dusk, a solemn tribute to honor the survivors and those who lost their battle with the disease.

MARY QUIRING, of Herndon had a difficult time putting into words just how emotional and important the relay has become to cancer survivors and their friends and family.

Cancer free for four years, Quiring, a local daycare provider, first got involved in the movement three years ago after leaving the hospital. While she raised money for the event that first year, she was too weak to participate. But, two years ago, Quiring walked in the relay for the very first time. "It was very moving," she said. "I can't even begin to describe it."

This year, Quiring said she will be walking side-by-side with her 15-year-old son, Nathaniel. "He will be walking [in May] whether he knows it now or not," she said laughing.

It is not only survivors who are moved by the annual event. Henry Carr, of Oakton, is a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School and a volunteer with the Reston Relay for Life. While his mom happens to be the co-chair of the relay, Carr says he would probably volunteer at the event, no matter what. "It's pretty amazing and quite a sight to see," he said. "It is so powerful. I have known a few people who had cancer, and this is a tremendous outlet for them to share and come together."

THIS IS THE THIRD YEAR that Reid has taken part in the American Cancer Society's fund-raiser. "I have so many friends who have been touched by the disease," she said. "This is my opportunity to pay tribute to those that are fighting the spread of the disease and to honor those that have succumbed to it."

Billed as the largest not-for-profit fundraising event in the world, organizers are hoping more than 3,800 communities and more than 2.2 million people will participate in the 18th annual event, said Monday's keynote speaker, Dan Bannister, the chairman of the board of DynCorp.

"I know this will be the biggest and best relay you have ever had," said Bannister, whose daughter Vicki is a cancer survivor.

"You are in for a life-changing experience — a roller coaster of emotions," Bannister said. "It is intensive, emotional, personal, joyful, tearful, and fun, by the way."

Reid, a member of the tie-dyed team, "Grateful Living," is proud of her involvement with the event. Upwards of 90 percent of the money raised by the American Cancer Society goes directly to services and research, Reid said. "I know we are making a difference," Reid said. "I will go to the doctors and they will give me a drug that two years ago was not available to me."

Like Reid, Quiring has known too many people with the disease. In addition to her breast cancer, both her brother and father have suffered from prostate cancer. The fundraising component is very important to her. "I wouldn't do this if I didn't think it mattered," she said.

THE RELAY was first started in 1985, by a Tacoma colorectal surgeon, Gordy Klatt, who was looking for a way to raise money for his local American Cancer Society. In May 1985, Klatt, a marathon runner, spent 24 hours circling the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound. More than 80 miles and $27,000 later, the Relay for Life was born. One year later, there were 19 teams and more than 200 people joining the doctor. Last year, 17 years after Klatt circled a Washington track, more than 3,300 communities in seven countries, and more than two million people, nearly a quarter of which are Cancer survivors, followed his lead.

Locally, the relay moved to South Lakes High School in 1997 from Langley High in McLean. In the last three years, the local event has helped to raise over $1 million. Last year alone, teams, including 120 Cancer survivors, raised a record $404,503.

This year organizers set a goal of 150 teams and $450,000. In his keynote speech, Bannister urged everyone in the audience to get involved in the relay and to get someone else involved, "even if it is just one person."