Relay for Life

Participants in the Huntington Beach Relay for Life event walk along the asphalt path in Central Park on Saturday.

Small white bags flickering with light lined the inside curve of the track, guiding the procession of people around its dark loop.

The wail of a lone bagpipe player mingled with the sounds of two teens calling out name after name over a loudspeaker.

Holding a white candle ensconced in a clear plastic cup, Rick Nawrocki watched the flame as he moved slowly along with the throng of people.

Looking over his shoulder, he took in hundreds of faces illuminated by candles before whispering to his girlfriend, Sophie Shahnazi, to do the same.

At the Huntington Beach Relay for Life's Luminaria Ceremony's walk around the track, Nawrocki thought about the people whose lives intertwined with his when he was going from doctors' offices to chemotherapy to radiation treatments.

"I think about some of the people I have met through the years," Nawrocki said. "I know firsthand that some of them didn't make it."

An all-night walk

As the participants were slowly led by the bagpiper off the track and back to a stage, Miss Huntington Beaches 2008 and 2010 finished calling out the names inscribed onto the white bags, or luminaries, for those who died or are fighting cancer.

Residents bought 300 luminaries to stand sentinel through the night as residents walked and ran along the track.

The Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society's signature event that brings the community together to raise money for cancer research, treatment and services, said Lori Couto, a senior Relay for Life manager.

Residents formed teams, which pledged to have at least one participant walking around Huntington Central Park from noon Saturday to noon Sunday.

The finals numbers aren't in, but Couto said they did reach their $130,000 goal.

The day was filled with themed walks, from goofy hats and sunglasses to aprons, a bouncy obstacle course for kids and soccer playing dogs, while the Huntington Beach Firefighter's Assn. spent Saturday manning a barbecue trailer, grilling up hot dogs, tri-tip steak, chicken and tacos.

Walking about the course, Nawrocki, a Torrance resident, blended in with the other walkers. In his black zip-up hoodie, shorts, running shoes and black visor, he gave off no indication that he is an ultramarathon runner.

With just a peak of purple, the designated color for cancer survivors, visible under his hoodie, residents could see he was one of few participants who had beaten the disease they were working to eradicate.

Nawrocki was diagnosed with non-hodgkin lymphoma cancer and had it come back five times before he was given a bone marrow transplant nine years ago.

It hasn't come back and he said he isn't worried about it returning, but Nawrocki continues running — the crutch that helped him get through cancer.

Running on empty

He was on the top of a peak in Death Valley in the middle of summer when he thought cancer might have finally slowed him down.

It was cooler on the peak, at least a couple of degrees below the 128 degrees it was at the bottom of the desert, but Nawrocki said he didn't know if he was going to finish the race.

The pain was excruciating.