OAK PARK HEIGHTS — Luke Taylor is a veteran.
Since undergoing cancer treatment as a five-month-old, the four-year-old Taylor has walked in the Relay For Life at Stillwater Area High School’s Pony Stadium.
Luke was there Friday evening, wearing his purple cancer survivor’s T-shirt and walking with his grandmother, Ann Taylor, also a cancer survivor.
“He was five months old and he is a survivor,” said Relay organizer Lois Raboin about Luke Taylor.
So was this year’s Relay for Life. Participants were forced into the SAHS gymnasium late Friday night when thunderstorms moved through the St. Croix Valley, Raboin said.
“We had a little bit of damage to our property,” she said. “A lot of stuff got wet and tents got thrown around. We had a major cleanup in the morning.”
Because of the storm threat, Raboin said organizers took steps to watch the weather and had plans to get participants to shelter if severe weather struck.
“We do have a TV. We have it set up on the Weather Channel,” she said. “We just want to get past the (luminary) lighting ceremony.”
Raboin said immediately after the lighting ceremony, organizers made the decision to move the event inside the high school.
“It was a great team event in that everybody worked well to make sure that nobody got hurt,” she said.
Before the storms moved in, the relay opened by celebrating cancer survivors, honoring cancer patient care-givers and paying tribute to Dr. Gordy Klatt, a former Stillwater physician and founder of the local Relay For Life who underwent stomach cancer surgery last week.
After cancer survivors completed the traditional first relay lap around the Pony Stadium track, caregivers were invited to join survivors for the second lap. Survivors also gave red carnations to their caregivers.
Prior to the survivor’s lap, Raboin urged Relay participants to grab a blank postcard and write a message to Klatt. She said all postcards with messages would be mailed to Klatt.
In their opening remarks, Mayors David Beaudet of Oak Park Heights and Ken Harycki of Stillwater thanked all relay participants for attending despite the Friday evening heat and threat of storms.
“I hope the weather turns out better than they’re predicting,” Beaudet said. “Have a beautiful evening and thanks for caring.”
“I’m glad we’re gathering as one community on this beautiful day,” Harycki added. “Welcome and have a great event.”
There were 53 teams with about 15 members per team signed up for the relay, Raboin said. But she added that the storm affected attendance Saturday.
“Due to storm issues, a lot of people stayed away or went home early,” she said.
Those who stayed Saturday could sit on a purple couch and videotape a message. Those messages would later be made into a video and put on YouTube, according to Jamie Nelson, 2012 relay entertainment chairman.
During Friday’s opening ceremony, Nelson also saluted the SAHS girls’ lacrosse team for holding the school’s first “Coaches Vs. Cancer” fundraising event.
“They raised a lot of money,” Nelson said.
Raboin said relay organizers would release final totals on money raised at the event at their Aug. 28 wrap-up meeting.
“Other than the weather snafu, it went good,” she said about the relay. “And now, we start planning for next year and start praying for better weather.”
As cancer survivors and caregivers strolled on the stadium track Friday evening to applause from relay teams, Raboin paused to reflect on why the St. Croix Valley Relay For Life is one of the few remaining 24-hour walks.
“Those are the reasons we do this,” she said about the survivors, including little Luke Taylor. “Here’s a little guy who 10 or 15 years ago, might not have been here. He’s here today and cancer-free.”