By SHERIDAN ROY
The Southington High School track filled up on Friday afternoon as the 21st Southington Relay for Life kicked off. The special event was made even more significant this year as one of the core founding members of the Southington relay, the late Rosemary Champagne, was remembered and honored throughout the event.
Champagne, herself, battled cancer for many years, and she passed away last fall. The co-founder was known by the Relay for Life committee to be a fighter—and a supporter for many others—while enduring her own battles.
“Rosemary Champagne was instrumental in the Southington relay,” said event lead Joyce McAloon. “She was here since the beginning and grew it to what it is today. I know Rosemary is watching over us tonight.”
McAloon said Champagne put all of her energy towards supporting survivors and their caregivers, and others battling cancer.
“She fought for each of us and that kept her strong in her own battle. She was the heart of our relay,” said McAloon. “Keep our Rosemary, our survivors and caregivers in your hearts and minds tonight. They are the reasons we relay.”
For the 21st relay, the theme was “Game on, cancer. Join the fight, find the cure.” McAloon said participants’ support was symbolized in each step taken toward the goal of a cancer-free world, and challenged everyone to “show cancer we mean business.”
Fifty teams participated this year, raising approximately $85,000.
Senior manager for community development of American Cancer Society, Alexis Maliga, said there has been a 27 percent decline in cancer mortality rate since the early 1990s.
“The ACS thanks you all, because that is done largely through your support,” said Maliga.
Through fundraising efforts, ACS funds cancer research, transportation for patients to treatment, offers a 24/7 helpline, coordinates “hope lodge” stays where cancer patients can stay at a lodge nearby their treatment centers free of charge, and many other support systems.
Sophia Sciascia, a Depaolo Middle School team member, said she has been participating in the Southington relay since second grade. It has become a family event, and family members make a competition out of it each year to see who can make the most laps around the track.
“It is so much fun to see how people gather to support a cause like this,” said Sciascia. When she walks, she remembers her great grandfather who passed away after battling cancer. Several other family members have battled cancer, as well, but survived.
“They fought hard, fought back and they were lucky,” she said. “Some are not lucky enough to make it. That’s why we do this.”
Trish Kenefick has attended every relay in town since it began. She walks for her two sisters, who suffered from breast cancer and did not make it.
“I saw their struggle. I know they were tortured by cancer,” said Kenefick. “I hope to find a cure so people don’t have to go through this agony. If we group together and fight for others, there will soon be a cure.”
Town council chair Chris Palmieri said the Southington relay is one of the community’s prides.
“One of our greatest strengths in this community is our volunteer efforts and our willingness to support a cause,” he said. “Today, this is a celebration of life, of our survivors, and a somber remembrance of those we’ve lost.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.