Local Relay raises money for cancer research, programs

For one Relay for Life team, Friday’s event was even more special than usual.

The annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society was the first since losing their team captain to cancer last fall.

Russellville resident Jimmy Fleming lost his battle with leukemia in October, making this week’s event even more special for his family.

“This year is special to us and our team,” Fleming’s daughter, Julia Sullivan said. “Dad was in the hospital in Birmingham last year. We have to go all out for this Relay. We just have to.”

Fleming was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2009 and was declared cancer-free last summer only to have a reoccurrence that claimed his life in October.

“Jimmy was always very excited about Relay,” committee chairperson Belinda Johnson said.

“He had an extraordinary team spirit about Relay.”

Sullivan said her father became involved with Relay 12 years ago. He was a guest at the CB&S Bank campsite for two years before deciding to captain a  team for his church, North Russellville Baptist Church.

“We came for a few years and Jimmy said ‘we can do this’ and we started a team at our church,” Fleming’s wife, Joyce, said. “He loved Relay.”

North Russellville Baptist Church raised $16,735.05 this year.

“We were very motivated this year,” Sullivan said. “In addition to my dad, our church lost two other  members in the last 18 months to cancer.”

Johnson said the Relay committee has decided to have a new award this year in Fleming’s memory.

“The team spirit award was added this year, and we will continue to present this each year in memory of Jimmy Fleming,” Johnson said.

In addition to the award, the Relay Committee presented Fleming’s family with a plaque at the survivor’s dinner Tuesday night for his service to the cause.

“We had Jimmy scheduled to speak at our kickoff, but he passed away in October. We wanted to honor him for his hard work for Relay so the plaque was presented to his family the other night.”

Johnson said this year’s Relay brought in $139,445.76 as of Thursday night.

However, more money was expected to be received at Friday night’s activities as well as some from other fundraising events that had previously been postponed.

“I know NorthStar is going to have their dog show next weekend, and money will also come during the Relay,” Johnson said.

According to the American Cancer Society, the money brought in from the Relay for Life goes to fund research for programs such as Look Good, Feel Better, Man to Man, Hope Lodge, and Road to Recovery.

“We’d like to thank Franklin County for stepping up and showing us that this event is still important. I know money is tight, but everyone was still willing to give and for that, we thank you,” Johnson said.

Johnson said there were 41 total teams to participate  in this year’s event with nine new teams.

“We feel like the new teams have brought excitement back to Relay in Franklin County,” Johnson said. “Everyone was really excited this year.”

While there were new activities at this year’s event, there were somber moments as well. At 9 p.m., the luminaries were lit to pay tribute to those like Fleming who lost their fight with cancer, and those who are blessed enough thanks to research funded by events like this to be called a survivor.

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