Niagara Gazette — This was a year of change for the Niagara Falls Relay For Life. And none were bigger than the change of location which brought the annual American Cancer Society fundraiser to the foot of Old Falls Street and the doorstep of one of its largest supporters.
Entering its fifth year, organizers felt Old Falls Street presented new options for teams, which many of them took advantage of Saturday afternoon.
“This was kind of like a trial year in a way,” Katelyn Steiner, a volunteer with Hard Rock Cafe, said. “We’ve seen a lot of tourists coming through, checking out the tents. I think it’s sparked more attention than in the past.”
Steiner, part of a volunteer group of Hard rock Cafe employees called the Ambassador Program, said Hard Rock – one of the Niagara Falls event’s major sponsors – stepped up its participation for the second year in a row. Moving the event to Old Falls Street allowed the restaurant to provide its VIP tent to survivors and access to the kitchen itself, some 500 feet from where participants were fighting for an end to cancer.
After fully catering the Survivor’s Dinner last year, Hard Rock decided to provide participants with lunch as well this year. And for the first time at any Relay For Life, the backdrop of the event Saturday night featured the cataract behind participants lit up purple.
It’s an effort, Steiner said, to complement the restaurant’s participation in the American Cancer Society’s Pinktober event.
“It’s sort of a mirror to Pinktober, where we light the Falls up pink,” Steiner said of the event, which also features a living ribbon across the Rainbow Bridge connecting participants on both sides of the international border.
Organizers from the American Cancer Society also approved the change in scenery because the Old Falls Street location allowed the event to showcase one of the brightest spots in downtown Niagara Falls.
Of course, the event would be nothing without its participants, which spend 12 hours walking along the “track” set up around the outside of some of the participant tents. The Relay symbolizes the enduring fight for a cure to cancer as well as the struggles faced by those who assist the warriors on a daily basis.
In honor of those people, each Relay begins with an honorary survivor’s lap, followed by a caretakers lap. This year, celebrating ACS’s 100th birthday, a little extra noise was added in the form of a fightback lap.
Volunteers said the mission is to finish the fight against cancer in the coming years, one researchers have made significant steps in since the society formed. But participants Saturday were armed with noisemakers and their own voices as they officially kicked off the loudest lap in Relay history.
Locally, cancer is among the most deadly killers of men and women, which makes events like the Relay For Life even more important. City Councilman Charles Walker, community health advocate at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, said information about the killer needs to get out to people in the area especially fast considering the elevated risks locals face just being here.
“The statistics show in this area we have one of the highest incident rates and some of the lowest outcomes in the country,” he said, adding outcomes result in deaths more frequently in Western New York than other areas. “Part of that is education, that people just don’t know the risk factors of this area. Too often they aren’t aware.”
Walker himself has seen the effects of cancer, having had several family members lose battles. His father was diagnosed as well, which he’s since beaten.
He said Memorial has teamed with Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo to provide opportunities to educate the public on the risk factors and has started an initiative called Now I Know which is designed to help with cancer prevention.
“All of the health care field has a vested interest in fighting cancer,” he said. “Memorial is also invested in educating the community.”
For those unable to participate in this year’s Relay For Life, there will be a Lewiston Relay event from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. Aug. 3-4 in Reservoir State Park on Witmer Road in Lewiston. More information is available online at www.relayforlife.org or by calling the local chapter of the American Cancer Society at 689-6981.Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.