With enthusiasm that lit up the night, thousands converged Saturday at Fairfield Ludlowe High School for Fairfield's 17th annual Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society's fight against cancer.
The 12-hour relay kicked off at 6 p.m. Saturday at the school's track and football field, with tents and activities spread across the field and fundraising teams walking laps around the track.
Gillian Clark, the staff partner from cancer society, welcomed attendees, saying, "It's inspiring to see the masses stand up for a great cause. Because of funds raised, two out of three people diagnosed with cancer are living today instead of dying."
Liz Lyons, the event's logistics chairwoman, listed some of the numbers that illustrate the magnitude of volunteer commitment to the local relay: "We have 152 teams registered, representing over 1,400 participants, and have already raised over $186,000 through the event," she said.
Over the 16 years of the Fairfield Relay for Life, more than $3 million has been raised, according to Lyons. Each year, a different theme is adopted -- this year's was "Relay Road Trip," a reference to the journey for survivors and caregivers.
Activities were scheduled throughout the night, including music performed by the band Magic Hat, a luminaria-lighting ceremony, Fairfield firefighters served up egg sandwiches at 3 a.m. Sunday and sunrise yoga.
Among the town officials on hand for the event was Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey. "I have been honored to be part of the event each year," she told the crowd. "Everyone has a story. You are here to give us hope. We are enriched by what you do to fight cancer."
First Selectman Michael Tetreau likened the gathering to the town's milestone anniversary: "This year we celebrate Fairfield's 375th birthday. The first settlers learned that the way to survive was to come together to fight a common enemy. You are carrying on that tradition here," he said.
Two cancer survivors were singled out as honorary chairmen of the event. The first was 14-year-old Viviana Rivera. She was diagnosed with Stage 2B Hodgkins Lymphoma. "I went to bed fine one night and woke up with large masses in my neck the next morning," she said. "I took antibiotics, saw my pediatrician and tests were run, giving the diagnosis. I was a softball player and had been feeling strong. Little did I know how strong I needed to become. I am almost 15 months in remission now and very grateful. I represent the future, I represent hope."
Paul Fletcher, the second honorary chairman, was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, had several rounds of surgery, experienced infections and suffered several recurrences. "I'm now two and a half years cancer free," he said. "I'm thankful for my wife for holding our family together, my mom for flying in, colleagues, neighbors and others. Their care and time sustained me."
Rivera and Fletcher rode in a vehicle provided by BMW of Bridgeport, which led a "survivors' lap" around the track to initiate the event.