By Andrea Barkan

This year's storybook themed Relay for Life was a fairy tale in more ways than one, right down to the happy ending.

More than 400 participants walked the track at Elmer Bankus Field for 14 hours, from Friday evening to Saturday morning, and raised more than $56,000.

andquot;This is the biggest one we've ever had, the most we've ever raised,andquot; coordinator Sandy Harper said. andquot;I'm just blown away.andquot;

Increased emphasis on team recruitment paid off this year, Harper said.

The money, which will be donated to the American Cancer Society, was raised through the efforts of 29 teams, representing local businesses, schools, churches and other organizations.

Team members spend months preparing for the big event with bake sales and other fundraisers, Harper said.

andquot;We want to be a community that takes up the fight, and we've done that,andquot; she said.

Luminarias - white paper bags illuminated by a candle within and dedicated to someone who's had cancer - also raise money.

Betty Bezzerides, co-director of the luminarias project, said 706 bags were purchased this year, usually for a minimum donation of $5 each.

Harper said for her the luminaria ceremony is the most moving part of Relay for Life.

andquot;They represent survivors and they represent those who've passed on,andquot; Harper said.

Hundreds of luminarias lined the track at Elmer Bankus Field, each adorned with a tag bearing the name of the honoree.

The sand-filled bags glowed gold and bright once organizers turned off the outdoor field lights at 10 p.m.

After a speech from Diane Cavaness that included brief anecdotes about community members taken by cancer, participants walked the track with lit candles.

Earlier Friday evening, cancer survivors kicked off the relay with the first lap at 6:30 p.m.

Cavaness said during the opening ceremony that participants walk to show solidarity for those with cancer.

andquot;People who have cancer never get off the track,andquot; she said.

Bethany Thompson, a breast cancer survivor, was introduced as this year's grand marshal.

andquot;I never expected to be up here,andquot; Thompson, who was diagnosed in 2003, told the audience.

andquot;It has been an arduous journey,andquot; she said. andquot;However, there have been positive things that have come out of the tragedy.andquot;

She said reading Lance Armstrong's book about cancer survival made her realize survivors should not be embarrassed by their former illness, but celebrate their triumph.

andquot;We went through a really hard time and now we should be proud of it,andquot; Thompson said.

Harper said Relay for Life donations may be made through Aug. 31. Send checks to Harper at 98004 Hall Way, Brookings, OR 97415.

Volunteers are also needed for next year's steering committee. For more information, call Harper at (541) 469-9022.