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Relay For Life Raises $23,000
It was cold on the Riverbank High football field early Saturday morning. Opening speeches for the Riverbank Relay For Life understandably were short. But then more people found their way to the field. Local survivors of cancer grabbed their purple banner, put their heads down against the wind and stepped off for their traditional first lap around the track.

From then on things improved. The wind died away. The day grew warmer. More people found their way to the field. Coffee and donuts warmed up everyone and walkers began to circle the track at a steady pace.

"We made about $23,000 this year," said event chairman Melissa Arata of the funds collected by the members of various teams taking part in the 24-hour American Cancer Society signature fundraising event. "That was down a little from last year. But it was a fun event. We had new teams. The wind went away. We had perfect weather and the luminaria ceremony was beautiful."

At the 2010 event, a buffeting wind that gathered strength towards Saturday evening blew out many of the ceremonial candles that are placed around the track to honor both the survivors and victims of cancer and light the walkers' way through the overnight hours.

"Cancer has changed my life," Mayor Virginia Madueno said, one of those among the opening speakers addressing the crowd. "I have just learned my father-in-law in Folsom has been diagnosed with colon cancer. After I am done here, I will be off to see him. It is remarkable how it touches us all. We are making improvements from year to year. We must continue. I commend you all for your will to continue fighting."

County Supervisor Bill O'Brien, who took the podium next, said it was good to see so many people out there to raise funds. The survivor rate was still climbing particularly due to events like this that spread information and preach the value of testing.

"Cancer has touched my life also," he said. "Not in the same way as Virginia's. I have a success story in my family ... some day we can hope to eliminate cancer. In the meantime, have a wonderful 24 hours and get out there and raise some money."

Nate Benninger, one of the relay committee members, explained the value of early testing if there is any suspicion of cancer.

"In my teens, I developed what looked like a mole on my body and was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer," he said. "My father was a medical service officer in the Navy but said it took forever to see a specialist. So he put me in the car and took me an American Cancer Society screening. Turned out I had a tumor close to my spine. They found it early and I survived ... I am here to pay back a debt I owe."

Some trackwalkers wore lighthearted costumes but for serious purposes. One young man walking for a team called "Keep on Truckin" wore a cardboard replica of a truck about his waist and brandished cheerleader pompoms.

Kevin Bizzini, a vice principal with the Riverbank Unified School District, carried a pair of angels' wings fastened to his back, carefully fashioned down to individual white feathers stuck onto the cardboard. His team, called Angels Among Us and made up of school teachers and administrators, honored local teachers Pat Nuzzo, who died of cancer and Carol Searway, who is battling it.

Against a backcloth emblazoned "Wranglin' It Up, A Cure For Cancer," another team had designed their site as a cowboy's camp. They were using a school jump pit with a fire pit set in the sand, a wooden hobbyhorse and a miniature chuck wagon.

Robyn St. Onge said her father Bob St. Onge of Riverbank was a cancer survivor. She and her family had raised $4,700 in just a couple of months for the ACS and one family member had come from Seattle and another from Palm Springs to take part in the Riverbank event.