Yellowstone County Relay for Life celebrates 20 years of supporting cancer research

2014-06-30T17:00:00Z 2014-07-01T10:45:04Z Yellowstone County Relay for Life celebrates 20 years of supporting cancer researchBy CINDY UKEN cuken@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

This year marks a milestone anniversary for the Yellowstone County Relay for Life.

As the fundraiser turns 20, organizers are hoping to smash some records.

With at least 186 teams registered so far, organizers have already exceeded their goal.

The next goal for this year is raising at least $625,000.

Stay tuned.

As of last Monday, at least 1,141 participants have raised more than $213,000. It is the third highest-earning relay in the nation.

The 2014 Yellowstone County Rock Around the Clock Relay for Life will be held July 11-12 at the Billings West High track, 2201 Saint Johns Ave. The event begins at 7 p.m. on July 11. Participants will walk around the track through the night to help raise money for the American Cancer Society. 

The event has come a long way in 20 years. When it began in 1994, only 12 teams participated raising $25,000. By 2010, the event raised a record-breaking $681,200 when Tim Janiak and Linda Claudis co-chaired the event.

“Yellowstone County residents not only see the importance of funding American Cancer Society (ACS) programs that benefit our local survivors, but they also demonstrate a phenomenal show of support for cancer survivors all over the world through the continued success of this relay,” said Megan Kongaika, who serves as voluntary co-chair of publicity.

“Second only to the federal government, ACS is the largest funder of cancer researchers in the world. It’s incredibly inspiring that our community plays a huge role in making that possible.”

In addition to being one of the highest-earning relays in the nation, the event has garnered national recognition on more than one occasion.

In 2013, Yellowstone County earned the All American Award, which is given to relays that overcome challenges. Last year, the designated chairperson fell through just months before the Relay. Because of their prior involvement with Relay, Doug and Raedene Stovall stepped up.

Also in 2013, Yellowstone County received the Terry Zahn Award for Excellence in Event Publicity. This is the national award given to the Relay that has the most public service announcements, media in-kind donations, social media interaction and event coverage.

Billings Mayor Tom Hanel and his wife, Robin, are this year’s co-chairs.

“It’s a way we can give back and help others,” Tom Hanel said. “Both of our families have been affected severely by cancer. Frankly, we have all been touched by cancer.”

Hanel said he and his wife also agreed to co-chair the event because he is impressed with the American Cancer Society’s role in the community.

Once held at Skyview High School, the relay was moved in 1996 to the West High track to give it higher profile with greater visibility.

The Relay for Life of Yellowstone County is aimed at honoring cancer survivors and victims and raising money for cancer research. Money raised locally also helps support a cancer navigator at Billings Clinic, the Wig Boutique at Billings Clinic and free lodging to cancer patients and caregivers.

In 2013, the American Cancer Society provided more than 265,000 nights of free lodging to nearly 43,000 patients and caregivers, saving them nearly $38 million in lodging expenses.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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