TALLMADGE -- Jim Norden lives the philosophy "one man can make a difference." For the past four years, he's participated in the Relay For Life of Tallmadge as a one-man team in memory of his wife, Melissa.
Norden is always the top individual fundraiser for the local event, according to Jamie Zychowski, who coordinates the Tallmadge Relay on behalf of the American Cancer Society. Norden says he "couldn't and wouldn't" have it any other way.
Melissa, 35, died from cancer-related treatment complications on June 13, 2012, just nine months after the couple wed. Just one month into their marriage Norden recalls, "Our world was turned upside down when we found out Melissa had stage 4 ovarian cancer."
"We wanted to start a family," Norden says, adding, "We even had names picked out, but it wasn't to be," his voice trailing off.
Norden had already been a regular participant in area Relays for Life, joining the cause after serving as his grandmother's caregiver before she succumbed to cancer.
When the team he participated with decided to stop taking part, Norden says, "I took their decision personally and I decided to become a one-man team. Sure, you can help the cause as part of a team, but so can an individual. I never want to feel like I'm not doing as much as I can. I'm passionate about it because cancer short-changed us."
Every year Norden increases his fundraising goal; this year it's $7,500. "Hopefully someday I'll have to choose another cause because we'll kick cancer's butt," Norden says, "but, in the meantime, I do it because it helps with the healing."
Zychowski says volunteers like Norden are essential to the American Cancer Society's mission to save lives. The 14th annual Relay for Life of Tallmadge will take place at the city's Recreation Center, 46 N. Munroe Road, on May 13 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Relay for Life is the signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society, according to Zychowski. During the 12 hours, funds are raised for cancer education, cancer screenings, transportation and housing for cancer patients and research to find a cure.
While some aspects of the Relay are intended to provide time for reflection and closure, others will provide an opportunity to celebrate the life of a loved one who's died or someone who is beating the disease.
Anyone is welcome to stop by the event. The opening ceremony will take place at 11 a.m., with remarks by Malissa Hutchison, who has overcome breast cancer. She has been designated as the honorary survivor for the 2017 relay.
Survivors and their caregivers are expected to take an emotional lap around the track about 11:15 a.m. Survivors are welcome to attend a free lunch at noon which will be provided by O'Charley's or a free dinner at 5 p.m. which will be supplied by Danny Boys; a caregiver may accompany them for a free meal as well, according to Zychowski.
There will be a luminary ceremony in honor and memory of those who have battled cancer. Luminaria may be purchased onsite until approximately 7 p.m. on May 13. If you can't make it to the relay, you have the ability to buy and dedicate them online by visiting RelayForLife.org/tallmadge.
"I've found that once people come to a relay, they get hooked," she says. "My favorite parts are when the honorary survivor talks -- that inspires me -- and then our luminaria ceremony.
"You know, I was a volunteer before I became staff and I always tell people that Relay is a place to heal. Everybody there has either known somebody with cancer or has had cancer themself. To look around and know there are hundreds of people that are feeling the way you do is powerful."
Teams take turns walking the track during the event. Games and carnival-type foods will be available as a way for teams to raise funds onsite and with sports as this year's theme, the Browns, Cavs and Indians have donated raffle items.
Miss Katie's Preschool Playgroup will have inflatables and an activity area available from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; the purchase of wristbands will be required for access.
This year's goal for the Tallmadge Relay for Life is $78,000, which Zychowski says is "right around" the previous year's goal, which was met. There are currently 15 teams participating, and so far there are 150 registered participants.
To sign up, go to RelayForLife.org/tallmadge. You may visit the Relay Facebook page at www.facebook.com/relayforlifeoftallmadge. For more information, contact Zychowski at email@example.com.
"I'll be there for Melissa," Norden says, "chasing hope and a cure."
Twitter: @ EllinWalsh_RPC