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Turlock, Hilmar prepare to relay for life
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Members of the Turlock High School Relay for Life team and coordinator Kristin Bettencourt (in pink shirt) take a giant chair break from walking during the 2018 fundraising event to benefit the American Cancer Society (Photo contributed).

The communities of Turlock and Hilmar will soon relay for a cure, coming together for the American Cancer Society’s signature event to generate cash and awareness for cancer research while celebrating those who have been affected by the disease.

Relay for Life is celebrated all over the world, with more than four million people in 26 countries taking part in the event each year. To date, the worldwide phenomenon has raised nearly $5 billion by hosting teams in different cities for an event which sees participants camp out at a school, park or campground and take turns walking or running around a track or path. Events can take place for up to 24 hours, with at least one participant from each team on the track at all times.

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Cancer survivors Robyn Fitzgerald, Nansi Masihi and Aleece Marson participate in the Survivors Walk during the 2018 Turlock-Hilmar Relay for Life event (Photo contributed).

For the third year, the populations of Turlock and Hilmar will join forces to raise much-needed funds for ACS — a decision first made in 2017 in order to ensure enough volunteers and donors for the event after hosting two separate relays put a strain on resources.

“We love having our friends from Hilmar involved with us,” Relay for Life co-chair Kristin Bettencourt said. “There were so many events going on that it was better for us to combine forces.”

Bettencourt is also the advisor of Turlock High School’s Relay for Life club, which is one of 25 teams participating in the Turlock-Hilmar event. Each team participates in fundraising in the months leading up to the event. The Bulldogs have hosted a drive-through barbecue dinner courtesy of Neto’s, sold business card ads to community members and on Saturday will “egg” Turlock homes, providing candy-filled, plastic Easter eggs to local residents and hiding them in their yards for a holiday hunt.

Every year, the 300 students in the THS Relay for Life club put their all into fundraising, Bettencourt said.

“It’s an event they look forward to,” she said. “Cancer affects everyone, and they’re really learning about what they can do with their diet and lifestyle to see how they can prevent cancer at not just this age, but into their 30s and 40s.”

So far, the 25 teams participating in this year’s event have raised $25,228.70 with 15 days to go until the relay. Teams often wait until the day of the event to turn their money in, however. In the meantime, businesses around town are taking it upon themselves to raise as much as they can in the remaining days, like Century 21 MM, which is hosting its 12th annual Rib Cook-Off on April 26 with all proceeds benefitting Relay for Life.

The cook-off will pit 22 teams comprised of community members, businesses and self-proclaimed rib masters against each other to see who can make the best rack. For $12 a ticket — purchased at the door on the day of the event or beforehand — attendees can eat ribs, snack on appetizers like tri-tip and oysters and even try to win raffle prizes.

“We all work here in and around the community, and seeing everyone come together, have fun and eat some good ribs for a good cause is heartwarming,” Jairo Aguilar of Century 21 MM said.

While the city’s Relay for Life event in past years lasted for 24 hours, this year will be the second that the event takes place over the course of 14 hours. In place of a longer relay, committee members have worked to make other aspects of the event more exciting and have even worked together to bring new features to the day, like a karaoke dance party, a variety of vendors and entertainment for children, too.

“It really is kind of like a carnival,” Bettencourt said. “There are so many fun things going on, and so many different ways we honor our caretakers and survivors.”

The Turlock-Hilmar Relay for Life will take place from 10 a.m. to midnight May 4 at Dutcher Middle School, 1441 Colorado Ave. Organizers kindly ask that dogs or pets of any kind are left at home. Those interested in purchasing Rib Cook-Off tickets can contact Aguilar at 209-658-1293.