The American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life — one of the world’s largest fundraising events dedicated to saving lives from cancer — will return to Santa Maria on Saturday in an abbreviated form.

Participants will gather at Stadium 805, located at 1900 Hutton Road in Nipomo, for eight hours of laps to honor those affected by cancer. Traditionally run over a 24-hour period, the race went virtual in 2020 due to the pandemic and was cut short in 2021 and this year.

During the day, participants will take turns walking or running around the track lined with luminaria – candles placed in paper bags with notes dedicated to lost loved ones and those who are currently struggling or have overcome the cancer.

“Almost everyone has been touched by cancer in some way, whether they have had cancer themselves or seen a loved one, family member or colleague cross,” said Kellie Ouellette, event manager for Santa Maria. “[Relay for Life] is an opportunity for us to come together to celebrate our survivors, remember those we have lost to this terrible disease, and fight back by raising funds for research and new treatment options.

All proceeds from the fundraiser go directly to cancer treatment research, which the organization hopes will lead to breakthrough and life-saving treatments.

The opening ceremonies will begin at 1:00 p.m., with the first round scheduled to start 30 minutes later. The relay is expected to last until around 9 p.m., after eight hours of continuous marching by participants around the track.

There will be a children’s camp area, an ice cream social for survivors, and food to purchase from the Garden of Hope Cafe.

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Organizers have entered 20 teams this year and expect over 200 people to attend the event. At least 75 local cancer survivors have pledged to participate.

“Everyone is welcome. It’s about bringing the community together,” said Heidi Gavlak, associate director. “You don’t need to be registered; just come this Saturday.

According to the American Cancer Society’s local leaderboard, Santa Maria Team Boo Bees is in first place with approximately $5,000 raised Monday morning. The team was created when Santa Maria local Lisa Bodrogi was again diagnosed with metastatic cancer in 2019, after the American Cancer Society helped her through her first round of treatment in 2010.

Relay For Life was started 36 years ago after Dr. Gordon Klatt of Tacoma, Wash., spent 24 hours walking and running on a local track. During this time he has covered over 80 miles and raised $27,000 for the American Cancer Society. The following year, he began recruiting other teams and Relay for Life was born.

Today, the event attracts over half a million attendees across the country and, in partnership with other organizations, is held in over 3,000 communities around the world.

In addition to Relay For Life, the American Cancer Society offers a wide range of services and support for people undergoing cancer treatment and their loved ones. They help families with housing and transportation, in addition to providing support groups, wigs and other tools. In Santa Maria, volunteers from the Road to Recovery program help transport patients to major treatment facilities as far away as Stanford or Los Angeles.