WALLINGFORD — This year’s Relay for Life was dedicated to Ethan Heng, a Meriden six-year old who died a year ago from brain cancer.
”It’s so hard to believe it’s been a year,” said Ethan’s aunt, Madelyn Cruz. “We have Ethan’s car, it’s going to do a mission lap.”
The 24th annual Meriden/Wallingford Relay for Life at the Sheehan High School track featured 43 teams and a slew of sponsors dedicated to raising funds for cancer research. It started Friday afternoon and continued into Saturday.
“We’re having great weather,” said Tina Rodriguez, an event leader and captain of Latin Mamma’s, a support group for Hispanic women affected by cancer. Rodriguez began attending relays when her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and has continued to participate since her sister’s death in 2006.
This year’s goal is to raise $115,000 for the American Cancer Society. A total of $86,000 had been collected by the start of the event, said American Cancer Society staff partner Lynn Kipphut.
“The teams have been slowly raising money since September 1 through planned events,” Kipphut said. “We really don’t stop.”
Sponsors are expected to donate more funds and individual donations by the end of the campaign – Aug. 31 – are expected to push the Meriden-Wallingford effort over the top.
Every year Meriden and Wallingford take turns hosting the event at one of their four high schools. Next year, the group hopes Platt High School, where the relay originated, will be ready to host the 25th celebration on its track field, now under construction.
Kipphut lost her mother Priscilla Polvani to cancer on May 6, 2018 and her mother-in-law Janet Lee Kipphut two weeks later, also to cancer.
“It’s personal this year,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for. What got me through was my volunteers. They were role models.”
This year’s Relay for Life theme was 1950’s era sock-hops. Booths were decked out with volunteers in pink jackets and black and white tiled walls and 50s records.
Ethan Heng’s booth was named Ethan’s Malt Shop, with his electric riding car transformed into a pink Cadillac. His seven-year-old friend Jezelle Betts, who “married” Ethan two years ago, will drive a memory lap in his honor. The car was decorated with a gray and gold symbol for childhood and Ethan’s stuffed bear was in the passenger seat.
Bett’s mother Jasmin Ortiz was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, said Ethan’s mother Catherine Balay.
Balay began participating in Relay for Life two years ago when her son was diagnosed and has increased her fundraising goals every year. This year she raised more than $5,000 and plans to increase it next year. Balay and Ethan’s aunt Madeline Cruz make memory jewelry and bracelets, and candy containers to sell year-round.
The team of 10 volunteers planned to stay overnight, with team members taking turns walking. A couple of Ethan’s teachers from Israel Putnam School, along with school social worker Jason Andrade, are part of the team.
“I take it one day at a time,” Balay said. “This keeps me grounded. I know it’s for him and and it helps me stay focused. Hopefully next year, we’ll push it to the max...bigger and better.”