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FOR DRUG-FREE COMMUNITY
By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
La Grande High Schools track was a site of soaring kites, bubbles and hopes this weekend as the fourth annual Union County 24-hour relay began.
About 250 people participated in the event that symbolizes the residents commitment to create a drug-free community.
This years relay had 24 teams of 10 members each. Participants usually covered one mile and handed a baton to a teammate. Last years relay drew 18 teams.
It was well organized and you could not have asked for better weather, said Lin Casciato, La Grande High Schools alternative school teacher.
This years event featured several change of pace novelty laps in which runners and walkers flew kites, blew soap bubbles and jumped rope.
The mood changed when another lap saluted those who have suffered because of alcohol and drugs. It was a memorial walk in which all participants carried glow sticks as they walked around the track Saturday evening.
It was awesome. It was a tearjerker, said Karen Roberts of La Grande, one of the relay participants.
Jess Stroup of Baker City also was impressed with the glow lap.
It was an inspiration and a powerful message, he said.
The weather was perfect throughout the relay except for evening and early morning temperatures that dipped into the 40 degree range. The chill air made it difficult for runners and walkers to get out of their sleeping bags at night and complete their leg, said LHS students Laura Graham and Dana Woodruff.
You would open your eyes and and a baton would be in your face, LHS student Stephanie Eddy said with a laugh.
In the evening and early morning, participants often ran longer legs of several miles so that their team members would have more time to sleep.
I felt cold until after the first mile, said Lou Gerber, of the National Guards relay team.
Many enjoyed taking in the celestial sights during the evening portion of the relay.
Relay participant Mark Karl noted that he enjoyed watching the moon appear to sit on China Mountain in east Union County.
This years relay again featured a spirited competition between the La Grande High Schools senior team and the National Guard teams.
The National Guard team completed 153 miles to finish ahead of the LHS seniors.
It was a fun rivalry, said LHS senior Bekah Schlessman.
LHS senior Tammy Darval also welcomed the competition with the National Guard.
It made us push ourselves to the limit. It was something that united us and made us come together, Darval said.
The National Guard team built up much of its lead during the evening and early morning.
The relay started at 10 a.m. on Saturday and concluded at 10 a.m. Sunday.
Some teams ran for 12-hour shifts instead of all 24 hours. Members of 12-hour relay teams included Kasey Walker, a student at Central Elementary School.
The best part was playing games in the tent with my friends, Kasey said.
Kasey was among those recognized for an outstanding individual performance at an awards ceremony that followed the relay.
Merle Comfort of La Grande, one of the relays organizers, spoke during the informal ceremony.
He noted that the relay celebrated those who have overcome drug and alcohol addictions. Comfort pointed out though that many participants have never used drugs and alcohol. They should not be overlooked, he said.
Some chose not to do drugs at all. We should also cheer them on, Comfort said.