Coweta gears up for Relay for Life
by Bradley Hartsell
According to Stephanie Martin, nearly everyone you meet has been affected by cancer in some way, either directly, through a loved one, or through a friend.
Relay for Life is a fundraising event conceived and organized by the American Cancer Society to celebrate survivors of cancer and to raise funds for research. May 2 marks the annual Relay for Life of Coweta County event.
Stephanie Martin, Piedmont Newnan Hospital’s nurse navigator, is the survivor coordinator at this year’s Relay. This is Martin’s first year serving on the board of Relay for Life of Coweta County, and Martin says she’s eager to tackle an event close to her heart. Matin has become active in cancer awareness in her Coweta community since the death of her husband, who succumbed to brain cancer.
“As the survivor chair, I’m in charge of making sure our survivors are having fun and being celebrated,” Martin said. “Relay for Life is my whole world right now. I love it.”
Since its inception in 1985, Relay for Life has expanded to include 5,200 events per year. Coweta County boasts the largest event in the southeast, and Martin takes pride in her community and its support in the fight against cancer.
“I think the community has really gotten behind Relay for Life. I have friends in other counties who report that similar events in their communities are fun, but not really a big deal,” she said. “I think it is the dynamic people of Coweta that lend to the hometown feeling. Last year, we kept running into people from our schools and our jobs and churches.” From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., the Coweta County Fairgrounds takes on the look, as Martin describes it, of a county fair. With tents, vendors, games and family entertainment all over the grounds, Martin says Relay for Life is a time for celebrating and enjoying the community.
“This is the one place where everybody can come together equally,” said Martin. “You can be going through treatment and you can be walking next to somebody who’s been there and done that and can be your support. It’s all about celebrating life.”
Martin says the catchphrase for the event is, “Why do you relay?”
“You don’t just relay for the heck of it. Everybody has reason,” she said. Martin feels a great responsibility to take care of the 160 breast cancer patients she will coordinate at the event, but ultimately, the reason she is there is for her husband.
Martin especially appreciates the physical gesture of remembrance.
“I love having a way of putting my husband’s name on something physical to remember him for me and for my daughter,” said Martin of the luminarias, paper bags containing votive candles that are illuminated at every Relay for Life.
Martin says they already have nearly 600 people registered, not counting survivors, with a month remaining. She expects more than 1,000 people to turn out for the event.
“I have a full stack of forms sitting on my desk and many new registrants calling every day,” she said.
Relay for Life of Coweta requests participants to register, Martin says, but registration is not mandatory and the event is open to the public on relay day.
Relay for Life is supported by teams, which raise money in advance and walk during the event. Relay for Life of Coweta currently has more than 75 teams, who’ve combined to raise more than $55,000 so far. As of early April, Martin’s daughter, Gracie, has raised $615 – the most of any single participant – while Coweta-Fayette EMC has raised more than $12,000 – $8,000 more than the nearest team.
Martin is confident when May 2 comes, Relay for Life will make a significant impact in the community.
“It is a huge, emotional but positive celebration,” Martin said. “Every participant I’ve encountered has described a moving experience with Relay for Life. It’s the celebration of everything you’ve been through over the past year, either yourself or with a loved one.”