Friendly Relay rivalry all about finding a cure

LAWRENCEVILLE -- For the last several years, Gwinnett has been "rivals" with a city in the San Joaquin Valley of California.

Gwinnett County has held the world's top grossing Relay for Life -- the high-profile fundraiser for the American Cancer Society -- event for a full decade, raising more money for cancer research and patient services than any other community on the planet. Bakersfield, a city of about 350,000 in southern California, has come in a close second several years in a row.

Together, they raised more than $4 million last year alone.

Like Gwinnett's Relay officials have said in the past, the "competition" is all in good fun. But that's not really what it's all about.

"Our whole purpose is to just raise as much money for the (American Cancer Society) as possible," Sylvia Cariker, Bakersfield Relay's media coordinator, said this week. "We're just trying to find a cure."

A late donation from local philanthropists Clyde and Sandra Strickland pushed Gwinnett past Bakersfield for the official Relay for Life lead last year. It was a move Clyde Strickland and ACS representatives said was more about completing the decade run and "sending a message" about what any community can do to help fight cancer.

Gwinnett shared last year's Gordy Klatt Award, given annually to the relay with the top fundraising efforts, with Bakersfield.

As of Friday morning, Bakersfield's website showed a fundraising total of more than $1.2 million. Gwinnett's total posted online, usually updated late, came in at about $800,000.

Gwinnett's Relay for Life will begin Friday at 7 p.m. Bakersfield's is held the following day.

Regardless of the final "rankings," the goal is working toward a cure.

"We just try to get out there and raise as much money as we can," Cariker reiterated. "Bake sales and yard sales and car washes, we're just out there trying to raise money."