LIBERTY - It was a ''sea of purple'' traveling through Churchill Park as hundreds of cancer survivors led the way through the wooded and shaded park kicking off the 12th annual Liberty Relay For Life.
Event organizers said the Relay not only helps to raise money to beat cancer, but also celebrates the American Cancer Society's 100th anniversary in making a difference in the fight against cancer.
One team that hit the pavement was Team Rachel, in memory of Rachel Beasley Possert, which was last year's first-place team, raising $13,000. Staci Mamula, a team coordinator with Diane Bassetti, said the team started five years ago after Possent died at age 31 of cancer in January 2009.
The Liberty Relay For Life kicked off Friday at Churchill Park. The survivors lap was the first walk around the park. Holding the banner are cancer survivors Chris Mathews of Girard, from left, Barbara Bickel of Warren, Linda Bernard of Hubbard and Pam Streb of McDonald. The survivors were treated to a dinner hosted by Bob Evans.
Tribune Chronicle / Bob Coupland
Mamula said all of Possert's friends, families and classmates from Ursuline High School Class of 1996 got together to form the team.
Possert's father, Tom Beasley, who was on the team, is a cancer survivor himself.
Several of Rachel's nieces and nephews helped carry the banner with her name on it around the park.
''We are very proud of the team and the survivors here to help remember Rachel and all others who fought cancer,'' Mamula said noting they plan to work extra hard to be ''the number one team again.''
Debbie Mullarkey, Liberty Relay co-chair, said the weather was cooperative for the relay. There were 31 total teams participating including seven new ones.
She said for the past five years the relay has been held in the park.
''This is an ideal location and a very homey. It is a family setting and helps everyone feel like they are closer to one another,'' Mullarkey said.
Ron Scirocco, Liberty Relay co-chair, said the teams come mainly from Liberty, Hubbard, Girard and McDonald.
June Smallwood of the Liberty Administration Building Team, handed out chocolate chip and sugar cookies at her team's booth. ''This is the best weather we have had. In past years we have had rain, snow, a tornado. I think we have had everything but a tsunami,'' Smallwood said.
Lordstown resident Debbie Canan, a 9 1/2-year cancer survivor, was among the many survivors who took the initial lap around the park.
''This event lets us show that you can fight and beat cancer. Cancer is not a death sentence anymore. There is more and more people surviving cancer,'' she said.
Canan said she loves the park setting atmosphere which creates a great place to walk seeing nature and the green and colorful surroundings.
Girard City Schools created a team of 175 students and staff from both the public and parochial schools in Girard to participate for the first time.
Kristen Gallagher, team coordinator, said she spoke to a group of students to help serve the survivors' dinner which they agreed to do.
''They wanted to have their own team. I have been waiting for years for someone from Girard to say that. In a matter of three months we put a team together,'' Gallagher said.
With the theme ''A Cure for Cancer is Sweeter than Candy,'' participants dressed as members of the Candyland board game and sold a variety of candy at their booth.
''Each school helped in their own way and had their own project. The elementary students decorated the tables for the survivors to eat from,'' Gallagher said.
Nikki Steen, a Girard student, said she got involved after hearing of a Girard elementary student who is fighting cancer.
''She had gone through radiation. We wanted to do this for her and others who have cancer,'' Steen said.
Rabbi Frank Muller of Congregation Rodef Sholom, gave the opening prayers and said cancer is limited because ''it can't shatter hope, can't cripple love, can't corrupt faith and can't destroy confidence.''
Bob Evans provided a dinner to the cancer survivors.