Walk with a purpose: Relay for Life steps off Saturday

24-hour trek raises money for American Cancer Society
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal features editor
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When walkers take to the track Saturday for 24 hours, they’ll be trekking in honor of those who are fighting cancer and those who they’ve lost to the disease, and raising money for research to help future patients.

“When you’re out there walking, you just walk with yourself,” said Joan Maxwell, who founded the event in Auburn 13 years ago. “You don’t really know what the other walkers are thinking. It’s sort of your spirit driving yourself.”

Thirty-two teams from Auburn and the surrounding area have been raising money for months through bake sales, car washes, online drives and sponsorships. The total fundraising goal is $90,000, according to event chair Peggy Christensen, and so far about $55,000 has been raised. Last year, the Auburn Relay gave $82,961 to the American Cancer Society.

Walkers have signed up for a multitude of reasons, from loved ones lost and fighting to personal battles with cancer. The opening ceremony Saturday begins with the reading of the names of Auburn’s survivors, and how long they’ve been cancer-free. The survivors then take the first lap around the track at the Gold Country Fairgrounds. After that, team members take turns making laps for 24 hours while their teammates help run informational, fundraising and entertaining booths for Relay-goers.

There will be musical entertainment, including performances by the Auburn Hip Hop Congress and the Sneaky Tiki Band, along with a kids’ camp offering bounce houses, face painting and arts and crafts. On-site fundraisers this year include food, massage, raffles and tie-dyed shirts for sale, Christensen said.

The walkers aren’t left out of the entertainment, as many laps have themes, such as the superhero lap and 1950s sock hop lap.

At 9 p.m., hundreds of bags will be lit up for the emotional luminaria ceremony, where people purchase bags in honor of their loved ones. The bags line the track and the word “hope” is illuminated as the walkers continue their trek in silence.

“To me, that’s the most incredible part of Relay,” Christensen said.

Wizard’s Warriors co-captains Maggie Garcia and Katrina Sallagoity shared their memories of friend Jim Petersen, who died in 2010 after a fight with bone cancer. The team comprises members of his Booze Fighters Motorcycle Club Chapter 6, based in Grass Valley. His fight, Sallagoity said, was inspiring.

“He did any research that was out there for his type of cancer, knowing that it had a 50/50 chance that it would help him,” she said. “But he wanted to pave the road for future people behind him with his cancer.”

Fit 4 Life team captain Roni Huston said this year cancer hit close to home for the Total Fitness team when gym owner Linda Dixon’s daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at only 27 years old.

Huston has been involved with Auburn Relay since the beginning, and described the atmosphere as “super-positive, super-friendly.”

“Most people have been doing it for so long that everybody knows everybody,” she said. “Everybody’s pretty comfortable – we just have a ball.”

This is Christensen’s sixth year with Auburn Relay and her first as chair. She joined team Cruising for Health after her mother, Bernadette Ross, was diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

“They gave her less than six months,” Christensen said, but she actually lived for a little over seven years.”

Even though her mother “went through hell” while fighting, she said, she was willing to keep fighting in order to spend more time with her family and see her great-grandchildren be born.

This year is especially significant for Christensen, as her sister, Cheryl Ross, has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Christensen is the main caregiver for her sister, who lives in Carmichael, and her battle has renewed Christensen’s resolve to keep fighting and be involved with Relay.

That fighting spirit is especially evident during the opening ceremony, when survivors are honored.

“You see some of these people who have survived multiple types of cancer, and they’re just happy to be alive and they just have this zest for life,” Christensen said. “And you just think, ‘Wow. If they can endure this, if they can go through what they’ve gone through, the rest of us should not be complaining about anything.’”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.



Relay for Life

When: 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, to 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 19

Cost: Free to attend

Info:, (530) 888-0479.




Schedule of events


10 a.m.: Opening ceremony

10:30 a.m.: Survivors’ lap

11:030 a.m.: Western lap

Noon: Sneaky Tiki Band performs

12:45 p.m.: Water balloon toss

1:45 p.m.: Sock hop/1950s lap

2:30 p.m.: Super hero lap

3 p.m.: Mission delivery – Mt. Vernon Grange

3:45 p.m.: Patriotic lap

4 p.m.: Hip Hop Congress performs with Chozin

4-8 p.m.: Sugar Plump Fairies

5 p.m.: Tiaras and Tutus lap

5-7 p.m.: Dinner provided by Auburn Masonic Family (Placer Building)

5:45 p.m.: Cake walk

6:45 p.m.: Hawaiian lap

7 p.m.: J&J Performing Arts

7:45 p.m.: The Straw Game

8:45 p.m.: Birthday/wear purple lap

9 p.m.: Luminary ceremony

9:15 p.m.: Luminary lap in silence

10 p.m.: Relay karaoke

11:30 p.m.: Glow in the dark lap


Midnight: Pizza provided by Old Town Pizza; midnight movie

1 a.m.: PJs lap

3 a.m.: Scrabble lap

5 a.m.: Favorite sports team lap

7 a.m.: Zumba conga line around the track with Natalie Smith of Total Fitness

8 a.m.: Pancake breakfast by the Auburn Jeep Club (Placer Building)

9:15 a.m.: Parade of teams

9:30 a.m.: Fight back/closing ceremony