Tallmadge -- The 2014 Tallmadge Relay For Life is set to kick off its 11th consecutive year of fundraising for the American Cancer Society.
The event starts with the opening ceremony at 6 p.m. May 16 at Rossiaky Stadium at Tallmadge Middle School, located at 484 East Ave., and ends at noon the next day. Admission is free.
According to Relay Chair Sandy Yarosius, as of May 7 more than 200 people on 19 teams have raised about $45,000 toward this year's goal of $91,000. Last year, the teams exceeded the $87,000 goal by about $1,000, she said. Goals are set based on the total amount of money raised the previous year.
Yarosius, a part-time van driver for Tallmadge City Schools, said participation in the event is slightly down this year, but she remains optimistic the goal will be reached.
"[The Relay] is just something that's in my heart, it's in my soul," said Yarosius, whose father died from complications of lung cancer eight years ago. "I love to meet that goal, and when we don't meet it, I get really upset. But it's not all about the money; it's what you're striving for."
She has been involved with the Relay since it started in Tallmadge.
Money raised through the event benefits programs for locals who are battling cancer.
This year's theme is "superheroes."
"It doesn't have to be a Batman or a Superman," Yarosius said about the theme, explaining that one team plans on having policemen, firefighters and military officers. "Or you can make up your own superhero. It can be someone on your team that has cancer."
Firefighters from the Tallmadge Fire Department will participate in that team's individual fundraisers at the event, and as part of the entertainment, children can take rides on a privately owned fire truck.
Ashley (Fairhurst) McGee, a 2002 Tallmadge High School graduate, is this year's Honorary Survivor. She will give a speech about her experience with cancer and lead the first lap around the track during the opening ceremony.
She said being named Honorary Survivor for this year's Relay reinforces how the community has been there for her, whether during her battle against cancer or as an athlete for the high school.
The former softball player, who went on to play for Kent State University, was diagnosed with stage 3B nodular sclerosis classical Hodgkin's Lymphoma at the age of 28.
In the spring of 2013, McGee suddenly began losing a lot of weight, had a persistent cough and found lump under her arm. Several scans and X-rays revealed a baseball-sized tumor behind her right lung, as well as enlarged nodes.
She learned the type of cancer she had was not only treatable but curable.
"When I realized I could fight back and saw a team form around me, for whatever reason, I started to think like an athlete. I decided my cancer would be my across-town rival, and I was determined to kick its butt," said McGee, who works in medical sales and still lives in Tallmadge.
"I assumed there would be some bad innings along the way, but I also knew if I put a game plan together, that if I didn't panic and concentrated on each at bat, each throw and catch, and ran hard, I could win because that's how I've been raised and that's how 'we' play in Tallmadge," she continued. "And that's why 'we' win as often as we do here."
Her team included her husband, Will McGee, a 2001 graduate of Cuyahoga Falls High School; family, including her mother, Janet Fairhurst, a secretary at Munroe Elementary School in Tallmadge; friends and doctors.
Over six months, she underwent 12 chemotherapy and 17 radiation treatments. Scans have detected no sign of the cancer in her body since July of 2013.
Throughout the treatments, she stayed active and kept a positive attitude that centered on overcoming any obstacle, which she said helped make her recovery that much easier.
McGee contributed her victory over cancer to her support team, the same way people will gather for the Relay as one large team in the fight against cancer.
"And while it may seem like we're just walking in circles and getting nowhere, we're actually on a straight path that is leading to success and future victories for many people," she said.
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