Issaquah Relay for Life sets record-breaking goals

May 15, 2012

By David Hayes

Teams walk around the Skyline High School track last year, fundraising for the annual Relay for Life event. File

When you have one of the most successful programs around, that essentially leaves one goal each year: do better than the previous year.

Such is the envious dilemma facing Gwen Schweitzer in her first year as the coordinator of the Issaquah area’s Relay for Life.

At this time last year, there were 78 teams signed up. This year, there are already 81, just four away from the goal, Schweitzer said. After last year’s two-day event netted more than $285,000, that left her with the goal of reaching $300,000 in 2012.

“We are one of the only mega events to raise over $200,000. Overall, the relay has seen a drop in contributions due to the economy,” Schweitzer said. “Issaquah has been lucky. We’ve seen funding increase by a small margin every year.”

In fact, the Issaquah event, held at Skyline High School the past few years due to construction at Issaquah High School, is 11th overall in the Great West Division, a 12-state region.

“We were No. 1 in King County,” Schweitzer said. “We even beat out the University of Washington event for the first time in a very long time. We were second in the state only to Tacoma, the founding location of the Relay for Life.”

The two-day event has a simple concept. Teams are formed. Each team must raise a certain amount for the American Cancer Society. And donors pledge money for every lap walked at a local track. It isn’t hard to find team members whose lives have been touched by cancer, whether it’s their own or that of a family member, loved one or friend.

For Schweitzer, it was her grandmother. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Schweitzer went to Colfax, with her mom and her husband to participate in the relay there to honor her grandmother.

If you go

2012 Relay for Life Issaquah

How to help

May 19 — Salon Couture, 485 Front St. N., is hosting a daylong Relay for Life fundraiser with 100 percent of funds raised going to the Issaquah relay. Services include haircuts ($38), mini manicures ($10), eyebrow wax ($15) and lip wax ($10). Make an appointment by calling 427-1828.

May 21 — Pogacha Restaurant, 120 N.W. Gilman Blvd., will be donating 20 percent of its sales from 5-8:30 p.m. to Relay For Life.

“It was really touching for me,” she said. “Afterwards, I wanted to fundraise more and be a more active part of a team.”

This will be Schweitzer’s sixth relay, fourth in Issaquah after stints in Colfax and at the University of Washington. Making the event even more amazing, her grandmother participated in the kickoff survivor’s lap two years ago.

The Issaquah event still features overnight camping on the track’s infield. This year, every inch, Schweitzer said, has already been booked for tents. To keep the party going there will be games, competitions and music will alternate between live and DJ spun. The highlight, Schweitzer said, is the luminaria ceremony, where community members place illuminated bags, dedicated to someone touched by cancer, around the track, with relay participants walking one silent lap in their honor.

“This year, we’re also doing a cutathon, where you can pay to get your hair cut or donate your hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths,” Schweitzer said.

To keep each year fresh, she has continually provided fundraising challenges, something usually left up to the teams to do on their own. Recently, Schweitzer threw down the gauntlet to see which teams, both adult and youth, could raise the most money online. The adult team of Betadmiration Society raised $2,095 in two weeks, while the youth squad Zakiiya topped all teams, bringing in $2,928. So far, the 81 teams of 707 participants have netted $86,973.

“The best part of the relay is 100 percent of funds raised go directly to the American Cancer Society,” Schweitzer said. “Plus, there’s a lot of local sponsors, new and old, so come on down and check us out.”

David Hayes: or 392-6434, ext. 237. Comment at

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