The music was no longer blaring and the participants were packing up their tents, loading up trailers and making their way out of the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds.

No matter how much (or how little) sleep they got over Friday night, the participants in the 2011 Relay for Life were still hanging in there when the event ended Saturday morning.

“I’m new enough, but had I known it was a challenge I probably would’ve tried (to walk all night),” said John Keintz, a Missoula resident who joined a combined team of Fencecrafters and Helena Sand and Gravel for the event. “It’s a fun social event. People have been walking since it started last night.”

It was the 62-year-old’s first year participating in the event, which began at 6 p.m. and went until roughly 9 a.m. the next morning. Meant to raise money and awareness for cancer treatment, the event was a success, drawing 45 teams and roughly 10 times that many individuals.

“We had more teams than we’ve ever had,” said organizer Sky Schaefer. “It’s a celebration of life and a year of fundraising.”

The event raised an estimated $45,000 to $50,000 as those who took up the challenge walked along a track inside the Exhibition Building. Some participants opted to receive a paperclip per lap. Keintz linked together a chain that ran as long as his body.

While some took to the outdoors since the weather was so nice there were plenty of other activities to do.

Late night “energy pong” games kept the participants awake, while music and games echoed through the building. There was a bubblegum blowing theme for laps and even an obstacle course. Those who wanted to relax had the chance to play Wii and PlayStation 3 video games.

“My wife (Judy), found a painting she liked at the auction and she bought it,” Keintz said. “She hasn’t told me how much she paid for it.”

While Keintz hasn’t suffered from the pains of dealing with cancer personally, he was all too happy to be a part of the event, which deals with a subject everyone is familiar with. Keintz has a sister in Minnesota who is a cancer survivor, but lost his mother-in-law to leukemia.

Mary Ann Knight, who completed chemotherapy treatment in July 2009 for breast cancer was participating in her third Relay for Life.

With the support of her husband, Hank, daughter Kelley and granddaughter Shaylee, the Avon native walked until 2:10 a.m. and registered 11 1/2 miles on her pedometer. Her joints were aching after pounding on the cement floor and she was tired after a night without sleep, but she was proud to support those around her — even though she is a cancer survivor.

“I would not have done it for myself,” she said. “I did it for the team.”

That team was the group from a St. Peter’s Hospital support group, “Exceptional Women Surviving Cancer.”

Through the organization, “I’ve met so many wonderful people traveling this same journey,” she said.

And Friday night, they continued to travel the same path together.


Jeff Windmueller: 447-4005 or jeff.windmueller@helenair.com

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