PHOENIXVILLE - Thousands of people gathered in an effort that shattered a state record, with about a quarter-million dollars raised for charity, as the borough kicked off its inaugural Relay for Life on Friday evening.
The community joined together for a "Celebration of Freedom" as part of the fundraiser, which was held at Phoenixville Area High School's Washington Field.
The opening ceremony brought together at least 2,000 people whose lives had been touched by cancer and had raised money for the American Cancer Society to fund a cure.
Phoenixville Area School District led the preparations for the Friday/Saturday event, which was making its borough debut. Superintendent David Noyes, Ph.D., had made a pledge in January to break the Pennsylvania state record for an inaugural Relay for Life, with a goal of raising $150,000 for the American Cancer Society.
At 8:30 p.m. Friday, Noyes released a tentative total amount raised to a minimum of $220,000 to date, which shattered the state mark by a wide margin.
The Relay for Life is a non-stop, 24-hour team fundraising event.
A temporary village surrounded the track, which was the center of attention where walkers were circling the quarter-mile oval. Hundreds brought tents to stay the night and to ensure that team members didn't sleep through any late night or early morning shifts on the track.
A wide variety of food and services, including one booth that offered massages, was available.
More than 140 teams joined in the effort. Most teams were made up of 15 members, with 77 teams based from the district, 16 from the Phoenixville Area YMCA and about 10 supported by the Phoenixville Hospital.
Team members wore shirts emblazoned with the words "HOPE- Our Reason to Relay." Survivors wore purple shirts that read, "I AM WINNING."
Cochairman Noyes spoke from the podium during the opening ceremonies.
"Hope without action is just a wish," said Noyes. "We're not here to wish for a cure but instead to take action. Hope with action can be a reality. Together we have hope if we take action."
"We're celebrating the greatest country," said Noyes. "A celebration of life. A celebration in liberty. All of us pursue happiness. This is a celebration of freedom."
Cancer survivor Debbie Strogus spoke intimately when she told the crowd of her successful battle with breast cancer.
In a presentation full of laughter, Strogus said that she was happy to have received all of her treatment from local Phoenixville doctors and staff and was blessed with much inspiration from her family.
She recited some of her personal life lessons.
"Have a good day," said Strogus. "Make it a good day. Just don't wait for good things to happen - make them happen."
Meighan O'Mara, American Cancer Society representative, noted the support that the Phoenixville area gave its inaugural Relay for Life.
"It's taken off like wildfire," said O'Mara. "No one could believe it. Everyone in Pennsylvania is talking about Phoenixville."
Dr. Christopher Holroyde, medical director at the Cancer Center at Phoenixville Hospital, has been an oncologist for 35 years.
"The message is hope," he said. "Without hope what is life?"
Relay for Life Chairperson Andrea Charlesworth welcomed participants, caregivers and survivors to the opening ceremony.
The U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard added a solemn moment by marching in, prior to Phoenixville Area High School student Brian Giebler's solo trumpet rendition of the National Anthem.
Orchestra director William Havrilla and choir director Patrick Murphy composed the musical presentation, "A Celebration of Freedom," for the occasion.
The performance stirred the crowd before approximately 400 cancer survivors and their caregivers took the track for the first lap.
When the survivors and caregivers reached the stands, they were met with a thundering standing ovation.