Volunteers, survivors turn out for Relay for Life

LAWRENCEVILLE - Sharon Crawford has participated in Relay for Life before, but this year she came with a different perspective.

"It's my first year as a survivor," said the Snellville resident, who was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago. "It was the first year I walked."

About 1,500 cancer survivors marched in the survivors' Lap, which kicked off the overnight event at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds. Thousands of people lined the track, clapping and cheering for the survivors.

"It's really just heartwarming to see the crowds that line the field and support you," Crawford said. "There's so much hope out there."

Gwinnett County is home to the largest Relay for Life, which raises money for the American Cancer Society. As of Friday evening, the event had raised $1.3 million, more than half of the $2.5 million goal, said Randy Redner, American Cancer Society area manager.

About 350 teams were involved in this year's Relay, and 8,000 people registered to participate, Redner said. Throughout the 12-hour event, team members walked in shifts, keeping at least one member on the track all night.

Norcross High School junior Sarah Hughes said the school's team pledged to keep at least four people on the track each hour.

"We love staying up all night," she said. "It's a bad thing if you go to sleep."

More than 250 students were on the school's Relay team, which strived to raise at least $90,000.

Redner said he was proud of everyone who came out to support the American Cancer Society.

"These people had a choice whether to help us this year in the most difficult of times," Redner said. "Every minute of every day, two people are diagnosed with cancer, and one person dies. Those people don't have a choice. ... I'm proud that we have a community that says we choose to continue to support (Relay for Life)."

Lawrenceville resident Nora Spencer said this was her fourth year at Relay. In 2004, she was supposed to walk in the event with her co-worker, Rhonda Kennedy, but a month before, Spencer was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery May 17, 2004, and has walked every year since.

"It doesn't matter whether you're old or young or white or black," she said. "We're all coming together for one reason - to celebrate life."