“For all of the Relay for Life events, the biggest thing is community involvement, and building that sense of community,” said Rick Bohlebar, chair of Relay for Life of West Haywood. “I believe in community. With no involvement, you have no commitment. There isn’t anybody who hasn’t been affected in some way by cancer.”
Practice makes perfect
A few days before the race, Bohlebar and Mark Scott, the Relay for Life of West Haywood co-chair, took time to speak about the event and its importance to the town.
“My wife is a 12-year breast cancer survivor, and if you can see my ear, I just had skin cancer,” Scott said, pointing to the left side of his head. “I’ve lost my father-in-law and my favorite aunt to cancer. Relay for Life supports research and awareness, and it celebrates those who have beaten cancer and those who have lost the fight.”
Bohlebar came up with the idea for the race from his time as the beverage manager at the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The food and beverage industry within the city held a wine race every year with much participation and fanfare.
For the Waynesville race, the first server runs up the hill and places five half-full wine glasses on the tray, with which they run back down the hill. From there, each of the other teammates goes up and back. Anything spilled or broken, or even a fallen server, is an automatic disqualification.
“When you go to a restaurant, your server comes up and introduces themselves. They’re a psychologist, a suggestive salesperson, a wine steward, but most of all, they’re graceful athletes,” Bohlebar said. “And we’re celebrating that athleticism. All of those trays they carry around, all of the running around these servers do everyday.”
On your marks, get set
On race day, a hot Appalachian sun glistened off the pristine wine glasses as they sat atop Miller Street, each awaiting to be picked up by the servers at the starting line below. Servers from the Tipping Point, Pasquale’s Pizzeria and The Sweet Onion mill about before the race.
The service industry is a tight-knit community — especially in Waynesville — but all friendships are put aside for the competition at hand. And as they size up the other teams, every participant has their own thoughts and strategies on the impending contest.
“I’m just going to run like hell,” laughed Nece Hedges of Pasquale’s. “I’m just wondering who I’m going to trip first at the starting line.”
“You’ve got to go slow,” said Brian Kinder of The Sweet Onion.
“I don’t want to trip on the downhill,” said Kelsey Jo McDermott of Tipping Point. “I brought my tennis shoes, but I’ll probably be the first one to disqualify us.”
“I just don’t want to fall on my face,” added Trevino.
Watching from the sidelines, Doug Weaver, co-owner of The Sweet Onion and Tipping Point, said he is glad the community is able to put on and support events like the wine race.
“It’s always good when we can get the community together for anything, especially something fun like this,” he said. “We’re all so busy being serious in our restaurants and taking care of customers that it’s nice to come out here and let our hair down, and it’s a fantastic way to do something great for charity.”
A few yards down from Weaver stood Waynesville Alderwoman Julia Freeman.
“This is a great way to bring everyone together and have something unique to show all of the visitors to downtown,” she said.
“We’re especially proud to partner with Relay for Life,” added Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association. “Main Street is a social connectivity, it’s a place where you make memories, makes friends and where you come to meet friends.”
The servers take the starting line and Bohlebar gives the signal. They’re off, with Pasquale’s and The Sweet Onion neck and neck the first couple of lengths. But just when Tipping Point is starting to fall behind, McDermott bolted up the hill and passed the other two teams on the way down. That surge was just enough for the brewery to hold onto the victory. At final count, only one wine glass fell victim to the hard knocks of the pavement.
Bohlebar hands over the first place trophy to the Tipping Point. Adorned with a servers tray and five wine glasses covered in gold paint, the trophy was hoisted high in the air. And for the next year, it’ll reside at the brewery, with the title up for grabs in 2015.
“We were a small event this year, but it really was a success,” Bohlebar said. “We’ll definitely have more teams next year. We raised awareness, so we met our goal.”
Relay for Life
Relay for Life of West Haywood, with the theme of Celebrating the Courage to Fight, is scheduled from 6 p.m. May 9 to 6 a.m. May 10 at the Waynesville Recreation Center. The event kicks off with opening ceremonies and a survivor lap, with a caregiver lap to follow. A remembrance ceremony will be held at 9 p.m.