By Kristina Houck
Community members gathered to celebrate survivors, remember lost loved ones and fight against cancer during the inaugural Relay For Life of Del Mar held Aug. 17 and 18 at Del Mar Heights School.
Participants walked a makeshift track around the clock to raise funds for the American Cancer Society to support patients, caregivers and survivors in treatment and recovery.
Wearing purple shirts, eight cancer survivors kicked off the first lap after they released white doves as a symbol of hope. Supporters cheered as the group held hands and walked to Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This.”
“It was very special,” said Kathleen Roche-Tansey, a six-year breast cancer survivor who walked hand-in-hand with her husband, a five-year melanoma survivor.
A Solana Beach resident since 1978, Roche-Tansey said it was her first time participating in Relay For Life.
“I think it’s great to bring Relay For Life into the neighborhood and get local community involvement and awareness,” said Roche-Tansey, a member of the Friends of La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club, which raised more than $2,000 by the start of the event.
There were eight registered teams and nearly 50 participants when the opening ceremony took place shortly after 10 a.m. Each team was encouraged to have a representative walk on the field at all times during the 24-hour event.
“Every relay has to start somewhere,” said Kay Coleman, a 15-year breast cancer survivor and Del Mar resident. “This is our baby relay. It’s in its infancy. We hope you’ll continue to come out and support this event. It’s only going to get bigger from here.”
Coleman, the captain of Kay’s Cancer Champions and LBL Support Group, delivered a short speech before welcoming the seven other cancer survivors to share their stories during the opening ceremony.
“We’re all here for lots of reasons, but the one thing we all have in common is that our lives, friends, family members have been touched by cancer,” said Coleman, whose team raised about $2,700, exceeding its $2,000 fundraising goal. “We all want to see a world with less cancer and more birthdays.
“15 years ago, they didn’t think I’d be standing here today. I’m here, you’re here, we’re all here to see this fight come to an end.”
Nathan Clookie, senior manager of Relay For Life, helped organize Relay For Life of Del Mar because there wasn’t a local event. Prior to the Del Mar event, the closest relays were held in La Jolla and Encinitas. Relay For Life launched in La Jolla in 1996 and Encinitas in 2005.
“I’m glad it’s actually happening,” said Clookie, a melanoma survivor who has worked for the American Cancer Society since 2010. “It’s rewarding. I’m happy to see it. It’s grown to this, and next year I have all of this to work from.”
About a dozen volunteers formed a committee in June to plan the event. The group hoped to recruit at least 15 teams and raise $15,000. Before the first lap, Clookie said participants had already raised more than $6,000. The total increased to more than $7,500 by the end of the event. Supporters can still donate through Aug. 31 via the relay’s website at www.relayforlife.org/delmarca or send donations to American Cancer Society, c/o Relay for Life of Del Mar, 2655 Camino Del Rio North, Suite 100, San Diego, 92108.
“The American Cancer Society has given me hope that not only will I live to see the end of cancer, but other people won’t have to go through what I went through and have a life-changing event like that,” said Coleman, who has volunteered for the American Cancer Society for 14 years. “I have survived for a reason. I can give back and help others.”
In addition to raising funds, participant Francine Tansey said the relay brought community members together to offer support throughout the event, including the Luminaria Ceremony, when participants placed decorated, lit bags along the track to remember loved ones.
“I think the community coming together to support each other is really helpful,” said Tansey, a Los Angeles resident who walked in honor of her brother and sister-in-law Kathleen Roche-Tansey, and in memory of her cousin and friend. “It can be healing and empowering.”
For more information about the American Cancer Society, visit