Niles kicks off the relay season

NILES – As the 1970s hit disco songs ”I Will Survive” and ”Staying Alive” boomed from speakers, cancer survivors from the area walked with pride Friday at the Niles Relay for Life.

Teams voted the overall disco theme with Gloria Gaynor’s popular ”I Will Survive” kicking off the event for the cancer survivors lap first, followed by a walk of all caregivers, said Relay co-chairs Jessica Crank and Denise Seman. Leading the survivor lap were Terry Austin of Champion and Kay Eckrote of Niles.

Seventeen teams dressed in 1970s threads and decorated their tent areas with disco balls and John Travolta posters.

”We will be playing disco music throughout to keep the crowd livened up,” said Seman who dyed her hair bright purple for the relay.

The 2013 Relay raised $58,000 and this year’s teams, so far, have raised $40,000, said Seman. Additional money is raised by teams at the 24-hour event by selling food, gift baskets and other items. The goal is $60,000.

Cancer survivors Mary and Neil Rulong of Leavittsburg were among the many survivors in attendance.

”I used to be a team captain. My best friend died of cancer. Fourteen of her co-workers came together as a team to raise money for awareness and cancer research,” said Mary Rulong, who battled skin cancer. Her daughter, Betsy, too is battling cancer.

Neil Rulong said the event raises awareness to cancer. ”Everyone does an amazing effort. I have lost my dad, brother and (first) wife to cancer,” he said.

Crank said the Relay helps the American Cancer Society do more research to put an end to cancer and keep people living.

”Today we are on the right track and going to make a lot of noise. Eliminating cancer will not be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. It will take time, courage, money and sacrifice. Silence won’t finish the fight for a cancer-free future but action will,” she said.

Some of today’s activities are a Window of Hope Ceremony at 10 a.m.; at noon, a children’s hour with Scrappy, the mascot for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers; and a wing eating contest. The closing ceremony will begin around 5 p.m. today for awards and recognition and the final lap right before 6 p.m.

The first relays nationwide began in the mid-1980s. This if the 15th year for the event in Niles.

In addition, there will be Relay events in Warren, Lordstown-Newton Falls, Cortland and Liberty.