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The “fireflies” from Ikego Elementary School were on their home turf at Ikego Saturday for the Relay for Life.
The “fireflies” from Ikego Elementary School were on their home turf at Ikego Saturday for the Relay for Life. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
The “fireflies” from Ikego Elementary School were on their home turf at Ikego Saturday for the Relay for Life.
The “fireflies” from Ikego Elementary School were on their home turf at Ikego Saturday for the Relay for Life. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Japan’s first Relay for Life event Saturday drew hundreds of walkers to the Ikego Housing Area for the all-night event. Over $57,000 was raised for American Cancer Society research.
Japan’s first Relay for Life event Saturday drew hundreds of walkers to the Ikego Housing Area for the all-night event. Over $57,000 was raised for American Cancer Society research. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Melissa Dooley had never been to a Relay for Life before, but that didn’t stop her from importing the American Cancer Society fund-raiser to Japan.

Because it was the first such event held in Japan, the petty officer first class and her planners hoped for $15,000 and a modest turnout.

What happened next was “unexpected,” Dooley said.

“We had over 30 teams, each with 12 to 30 people, and raised about $57,000,” Dooley said. “We went way over what we thought.”

The American Cancer Society’s signature all-night relay draws 3 million participants annually in the United States. Since its inception in 1986, “Relay” has spread to 20 other countries. Each event follows basically the same format: Teams are made up of volunteers who walk for 12 or 24 hours to raise money for cancer research, passing the baton to each other all night.

Yokosuka Naval Base’s version drew more than 30 commands, from fleet sailors to on-base organizations. Batons ranged from sparkling chalices to a 16-pound M-249 squad automatic weapon carried by Marines who sometimes ran in formation. Some folks turned out in costume, like Spider-Man and the Ikego Elementary School firefly. Team booths provided refreshment and Master Chief Gary Bernhard, a cancer survivor, deejayed tunes all night.

Some were moved to keep walking all 12 hours. Their path was lit by luminaries “in memory of” or “in honor of” those diagnosed with cancer. The names were read twice, once during the lighting of the luminaries and again at midnight. The readings were “very emotional,” Dooley said.

“We had three full sheets of names of those who passed away from cancer, and we’re a small base,” Dooley said. “I think a lot of people have family or friends with the disease — cancer affects everyone.”

But Relay for Life is about taking action against the disease. Her mother’s own fight with cancer inspired Dooley “to do something about it” after her mother passed away, she said.

Dooley hopes that this first Relay For Life won’t be the last and that the surprising success of this year will continue.

“Most of the people we had this year had participated in the relay back in the States — but now they’re going to tell their commands,” Dooley said. “We’re hoping for even more people next year.”

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