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AYER — Support for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life reached an all-time high in Ayer this June.

The 18-hour event, held at the school complex on June 22 and 23, drew over 500 participants and raised over $137,000 for the fight against cancer. Those figures — higher than any in local relay history — have event coordinator Carole Gustafson calling it the best ever.

“We’ve been here for eight years and this is the most we’ve ever made,” she said. “We’re thrilled.”

The Relay’s goal was $150,000, which is still within reach. Gustafson said donations through the end of August are counted toward that total.

While this year’s event was a success, the volunteers who plan it have no intention of resting on their laurels. Instead, they plan to begin work on the 2008 relay shortly, said Gustafson.

“The thing we want to do the most is take a breath, get some down time and start thinking of how we’ll fund-raise next fall,” she said.

For participants, Relay for Life involves months of fund-raising that culminate with the all-night celebration. The event is called a relay because teams have at least one member walking the school athletic track for the event’s duration.

While participants are asked to raise at least $100 apiece, some make fund-raising and advocating for Relay a year-round practice, said event publicity chairman Martha Craft.

“I like to say cancer doesn’t take a vacation and neither does Relay,” she said.

Craft is taking a step back from Relay for personal reasons after eight years of being Ayer’s point person on ACS matters. Her seat is one of several the committee will need filled this summer. Craft urged people to get involved.

“We’re always looking for more people to join,” she said.

Besides fund-raising, recognizing those touched by cancer is a major focus of Relay. Having lost a husband and numerous friends to the disease, Gustafson said it’s easy to stay motivated.

“I do it because I believe in the cause,” she said. “I’d like to put an end to cancer. I’ve had way too many friends and relatives who’ve had cancer.”

The Ayer event was one of over 200 in the New England area. Funds raised through Relay go toward cancer research, advocacy, education and patient services

Gustafson iterated the invitation for people to get involved.

“It’s a nice group of people and it’s a fun event,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, too.”

The Ayer Relay team can be contacted via 800-ACS-2345

The Ayer team is open to residents from Harvard, Devens, Groton, Townsend, Lunenburg, Pepperell and Shirley.

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