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Hundreds of people will walk the track at Schroeder Field in Kelso this weekend to raise money and awareness for cancer research during Cowlitz County’s 31st annual Relay for Life.

More than 200 participants across 29 teams are currently signed up, though anyone can still sign up for the relay online or on the day of the race.

“Whether they are registered for a team or not, people can show up,” said Dennis Bird, event chairman. “They can purchase things that are sold around the track for different teams. … They can participate in a silent auction that’s being held to benefit us, and they can go online and make a direct contribution to the event.”

Funds raised through the relay go to the American Cancer Society, which supports cancer research.

“We have made great strides with the Relay for Life,” Bird said. “We’ve had a 26 percent decrease in cancer deaths since 1991. ... That equates to 2.6 million fewer cancer deaths.”

This years relay set its fundraising goal at $108,000, 10 percent more than last year’s goal, Bird said. As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly $62,000 had been raised. The online donation platform remains open for the next two days at relayforlife.com/cowlitz.

Although fundraising for cancer research is the primary goal of the relay, Bird said it’s “about more than just the money.” Three themes are at the heart of the event: celebrate, remember and fight back.

“We are celebrating the survivors and caregivers and the strides we have made (in research),” Bird said. “We remember the people we’ve lost, and then fight back … overall against cancer.”

During the relay, team members take turns walking around the high school track. Each team is asked to have at least one member on the track at all times during the 24-hour event.

“People always talk about changing the (24-hour timeframe) to a lesser event, but the reason for 24-hours is because people people living with cancer live with cancer 24 hours a day,” Bird said. “Cancer doesn’t sleep or take a rest. Our event being 24 hours signifies us … going through a full 24-hour cycle.”

For Bird, who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2014, the symbolism of the 24-hour event has additional meaning.

“I was the event chair ... back in 2009 and 2010. At that time … I wasn’t affected by cancer personally in my inner circle,” he said. “I was diagnosed five years ago with an incurable cancer. I knew the significance of the 24-hour theme, but this time, obviously, the significance means a lot more to me.”

Bird said event organizers bring a “fun factor” to the day-long event with special entertainment and activities, including live bands, a kids camp and games with prizes. Themed laps, such as a disco lap or the 2.4-kilometer “Hula Fun Run,” also add to the excitement, Bird said.

There’s also a survivor-caregiver luncheon that’ is “gearing up to be one of the best ever” for the local relay, Bird said. Almost 150 people are expected to attend that luncheon, and each will leave with a goody bag donated by St. John PeaceHealth Medical Center.

The relay starts at 10 a.m. Saturday with an opening ceremony. Other major relay events include the 10 p.m. “Luminaria Ceremony” — during which lanterns are lit to represent a life taken by cancer, a survivor or a supporter for a person still fighting the disease — and the closing ceremony 10 a.m. Sunday.

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