LUTZ – The people running around the Steinbrenner High School track at midnight, waiting for the sunrise, will be running for a reason.
And even when the stadium lights go down and the only illumination comes from the candles surrounding the track, they’ll keep running.
For 18 hours.
The American Cancer Society is hosting its annual Relay for Life at Steinbrenner, 5575 W. Lutz Lake Fern Road in Lutz, starting at 2 p.m. on May 17. It will include the communities of Lutz, Land O’ Lakes and Sunlake. Previously, all three communities held their own events, but they were combined this year in hopes of raising more than $103,000.
Barbara Hancock, the instructional leadership director for Hillsborough County Public Schools, has been involved with Relay for Life since 1995. There are at least 285 Relay for Life events in Florida, but the one at Steinbrenner is one of the largest.
“We do this for a lot of reasons,” Hancock said. “We are mostly trying to help survivors and their caregivers. It isn’t as much about the event as it is about the victims.”
The relay isn’t a race. Businesses or any other organization can form teams. Each team must have someone either running or walking around the track for the entire 18 hours. There is no limit on how many people can participate on each team. Families and neighborhood groups can also participate.
The event will start with an opening ceremony featuring cancer survivors. The first lap around the track will be run or walked by cancer survivors and the second will be done by caregivers. The teams will join in on the third lap and from that point on, everybody participates.
“The theme this year is ‘Fighting Toward a Magical Ending,’” Hancock said. “We need some magic to fight cancer.”
At 9 p.m., as the sun goes down, there will be a memorial ceremony where the lights go down and luminaria surround the track. At 8 a.m. the next morning, there will be a closing ceremony.
There is a reason for the 18-hour event.
“For 18 hours, that mirrors the life of a cancer patient,” Hancock said. “It’s about never knowing what is going to happen. We end it at 8 a.m. because it is light, a symbol that there is life at the end of the tunnel. There is a sunset when things look bleak, then the moon that shows the darkness that the victims feel, then the morning that shows the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hancock doesn’t have a close family member that has suffered through cancer, but she knows plenty of people who have and said it is her mission to find a cure for cancer.
“People need to know what cancer can do to the body and what it takes away from them,” Hancock said. “We need as many participants as possible to spread awareness.”
Team parties will be held on March 27 at Steinbrenner and April 17 at Land O’ Lakes High School starting at 7 p.m.