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After 10 years, Gwinnett's Relay for Life still No. 1

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Make it a full decade.

Officials announced Wednesday that Gwinnett County's Relay for Life was officially the top-grossing fundraiser in the world again this year, a title it's held every campaign since 2002. This time, it was a little closer than usual -- a grand total of $2,087,991 put Gwinnett only about $12,000 above "rival" and runner-up Bakersfield, Calif.

After months and months of fundraising throughout the community, it was a margin made possible by a recent donation of $88,000 from Clyde and Sandra Strickland. The donation, in turn, was the result of a conversation the Stricklands had with regional American Cancer Society head Bill Manson.

"I told him, 'It looks like you need about $88,000,'" Clyde Strickland said Wednesday with a laugh. "He'd like to have fell out of his chair when we said, 'We'll just give it to you.'"

Over the last decade, Gwinnett's Relay for Life has raised more than $20 million for the American Cancer Society, money used to fund cancer research and patient resources. Many of those years were cakewalks to the No. 1 spot, but, in recent years, Bakersfield has made a charge and helped fuel a friendly rivalry between the two communities some 2,200 miles apart.

Despite Gwinnett's "win" this year, Manson said the county will share the Gordy Klatt Award -- given by the ACS to each year's top-grossing Relay for Life -- with Bakersfield. Senior income manager Linda Story said plans are already in the works for ACS representatives from each to meet up and swap ideas.

"To be honest with you, it's not about who collects the most money," said Sandra Strickland, a cervical cancer survivor. "It's that we're all working together for the same cause and the same purpose."

"I feel like Gwinnett County has set a challenge for the whole nation, where if we all work together one day there will be a cure."

Manson called the Stricklands "wonderful Gwinnettians" with "incredibly generous hearts," but was also quick to thank the thousands of other Relay supports in the community. Like Strickland, Story pointed to Gwinnett's continued stay at No. 1 as a point of pride throughout the county and a message sent throughout the world.

"I think it means a lot to (Gwinnett) that we were able to maintain that title for 10 years running," Story said. "I think it says a lot about the commitment and dedication of our community."

Relay's new year officially started Sept. 1 with the launching of its new website. By Wednesday, there were already 72 teams signed up for an event nine months away.

"Every little bit counts," Clyde Strickland said. "It takes small amounts to make big amounts, and sometimes the smallest amount means more than the biggest one. The person that gives $1, $5, $10, to me that's more."