By June Mathews
Stepping into the double-gymnasium Trussville Athletic Center on May 17, one would never know the annual East Jefferson Relay For Life event had suffered a major hiccup a few hours before. By all appearances, it was business as usual for such an event.
A gigantic inflatable dominated the center portion of one gym around which participants walked to the beat of 50s and 60s music performed by the Kool Kats of Argo Christian Fellowship. In the second gym, some 40 booths buzzed with food preparation and sales, face painting, silent auctions and a variety of other activities.
But it had all taken a lot of last-minute doing. Over the course of the day, small rain chances had turned into downpours, and the event, originally slated for the Trussville Youth Football field, was quickly moved inside.
“Even with all the rain and having to move everything into the gym, we had more people show up and more money raised then we did last year outside in beautiful weather,” said Relay chairwoman Sandi Wilson. “I’m a big believer in the concept of TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More), and the success of this Relay proved it. Together we did achieve more.”
The East Jefferson Relay’s 2013 effort garnered more than $76,000, far surpassing the $50,000 goal set earlier this year.
“From the bottom of my heart, I would like to say ‘Thank you’ to everyone who played a part in this year’s Relay,” Wilson said. “I’m still in awe of all the hard work, dedication and tremendous support we were given.”
For all its sweet moments, Relay is often punctuated with deep sorrow, and that’s what members of Team Sting were experiencing as they walked last Friday. A local women’s volleyball club, Team Sting signed up only two days before the East Jefferson Relay after losing one of its players May 15.
Just weeks before her death, 21-year-old Caroline Neisler seemed in the pink of health. A busy Samford University student and athlete, she began feeling unusually tired, but didn’t think too much about it. She finally complained of her symptoms to a doctor and was ultimately diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia May 1.
After an initial course of chemotherapy during the first week of May, Neisler developed a fungal infection, a challenging and potentially fatal risk factor with AML treatment. Within a few days, the infection took her life.
“We got to say goodbye to her,” said Team Sting coach Julie Dailey. “But we’re all still in shock. She was a beautiful girl, inside and out.”
One of the Team Sting players walking in memory of Neisler was Taylor Palmer. The two met in sixth grade when they both made the JV volleyball team at Jacksonville High School and became best friends the following year.
“When I found out on that Tuesday she might not make it through the night, it was surreal,” Palmer said. “When you’re young like we are, you don’t think about this kind of stuff. You don’t think about losing your best friend at our age.”
But like many Relay For Life participants, Palmer found solace in remembering Neisler with others who are struggling or have struggled in similar circumstances.
“Relay was great,” she said. “Seeing other people supporting their loved ones helped ease some of the pain.”