First American River Relay for Life Kicks Off New Era in Local Cure for Cancer

Citrus Heights, CA (MPG)  |  By Elise Spleiss
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The first American River Relay for Life on April 22, brought together 25 fundraising teams from the communities of Carmichael, Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks, and Orangevale for their first combined relay event under the name American River Relay for Life.

Teams gathered for the 14th year at McArthur Ballfield, San Juan High School in Citrus Heights to run, walk, play, and offer a myriad of ‘gently loved’ items, all to raise money for research and patient care programs such as a cancer navigator, classes, lodging and transportation. A total of $31,089. has been raised towards the $50K goal.
Besides the name change, the new relay returned to its previous 24-hour format, kicking off the event at 9 a.m. Saturday morning and continuing through the closing ceremony at 9 a.m. Sunday morning. Members of the 25 teams created by individuals, families and friends, neighborhoods, schools, businesses, non-profits, and staff from each city, took turns running and walking laps around the field day and night.

Sacramento Metro Fire District Paramedic Captain Robert Bruce, himself a survivor, greeted attendees at the opening ceremony and presented Survivor Medals to cancer survivors. Leadership Team leaders Bryan Nay, Desiree Gallaher, and Chris Duca greeted participants, preparing them for the adventure coming in the hours head.
Bill Van Duker, a founding member of the Citrus Heights relay helped close the event, saying he is delighted with the resurgence of the local relay, having seen them go from only six hours in 2015, to 12 hours in 2016, and now returning to the 24-hour format. The Luminaria speaker, Connie Goethel shared her story of survival with the audience. Over 300 survivors, caregivers, family members and friends, and service organizations participated.

One of the longest participating family teams came from Fair Oaks. The Ures family, with over 30 members participating this year, has been walking since 2011 when Mark Steven Ures senior, died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 58. Team ‘Remembering A Wonderful Papa’ now has four generations making a difference. Fourth generation Mark Charles Ures, a 15-year-old Foothill High student, walking for his grandfather, was just completing his marathon 26.2-mile hike at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night. 
Upon registration, teams make the commitment to have at least one walker on the field during the entire event. This is no small task, so the high-energy music of all genres spun by Mark von Thaden of Skool DJ, helped to keep walkers and runners awake and motivated to complete this task the entire 24 hours.

As the sun set, those who had fought hard but finally had to leave their family and friends in death, were honored as hundreds of luminaries surrounding the field were lit, creating a somber but hopeful mood. More illuminated white bags donated for $10 each by participant in honor of their loved ones, spelled out the words “Hope” and “Cure” on each side of the stadium.

While fellow team members rested or slept in their tents music continued to play, including tunes for the ‘80’s Music’ lap, ‘Glow in the Dark,’ and ‘Crazy Hair,’ where dozens of crazy wigs suddenly appeared on walkers and runners. A midnight movie, “Trolls,” was shown and team fundraising competitions throughout the night kept the momentum going.

Volunteers included students from the Orangevale Rotary Interact program at Casa Roble High School, Sacramento State students, and ‘Lisa D presents who brought her junior ‘Relay Ambassadors,’ ages 7 to 17 to help where needed. Lunch was provided by House of Chicken and Ribs in Antelope, and dinner came from Sammy’s Restaurant, Stone’s Casino.

Event sponsors included Sutter Health, Absolute Compassion, Cimino Care, the Rotary of Citrus Heights, and RE/MAX.

Donations are still being collected through August towards the final goal of $50k. To donate go to, or contact Tamika Stove with the American Cancer Society at tamika.stove