In 2010, Thrivent member Tony Kneeland and his wife, Julie, participated in their first Relay For Life. Tony's mother, Diane, had been diagnosed with lung cancer the year before. The Kneelands walked in the local Watertown, SD, Relay to show their love and support for her. They finished the final lap with Diane at their side.
The following year, the Kneelands once again formed a Relay For Life team. This time, nearly 50 family members and friends signed up to join them. The entire team planned to wear special T-shirts imprinted with the phrase, "Diane's Battle Is Our Battle." But just days before the event, Tony's mother passed away.
Funeral services were held the afternoon of the Relay. Later that day, Julie walked in remembrance of Diane.
"It was a way to honor my mother-in-law and help me cope with her loss," says Julie. "That night really pulled me into the reason behind the event. It became a passion for me. Since then, our whole family has been involved."
Relay For Life
Relay For Life is the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society (ACS). Events are held across the country, bringing communities together to remember loved ones lost, honor survivors of all cancers, and raise money to help the organization make a global impact on cancer.
Team members take turns walking around a track or designated path. Each event is six to 24 hours in length and each team is asked to have a member on the track at all times signifying that cancer never sleeps.
"At the Relay events, we celebrate life, remember those we have lost and then fight back with fundraising," says Julie.
"At the Relay events, we celebrate life, remember those we have lost and then fight back with fundraising." – Julie Kneeland, Relay For Life participant
Making a difference is a family affair
Since Diane's passing, Tony and Julie have fueled their passion for fighting cancer by leading a total of seven Thrivent Action Teams to support local ACS programs. "Relay For Life is the big fundraiser for the American Cancer Society," says Julie. "And Coaches vs. Cancer is our team's way of fundraising throughout the year."
The program, in collaboration with the National Association of Basketball Coaches, unites high school and college coaches and fans nationwide.
When Tony and Julie asked their local public school to get involved more than five years ago, the coaches, teachers and students were "all in."
Each year since then, the Kneelands have led Thrivent Action Teams during a double-header basketball game. Teams raised funds through bake sales and silent auctions that included items made by students of Waverly/South Shore School.
"We also do a Bucket Run," explained Tony. "We pass buckets through the crowd and ask for donations. During our second Coaches vs. Cancer event our son, Carter, challenged the crowd to donate at least $500. If they did, he said he would shave his head in memory of his grandma."
That night, Carter took a seat on the sidelines where a local hairdresser (who was a breast cancer survivor) shaved his head. At halftime, he bravely walked out to center court – greeted by cheers and applause from his new fans.
Continuing the fight, guided by faith
As the 2018 Relay For Life events are being planned across the country, the Kneeland family is driven to participate again this year.
"Relay For Life and Coaches vs. Cancer have been a big part of our lives since losing Mom," says Tony. "And the Thrivent Action Teams have really helped support our events."
While Tony has been integral to the success the fundraisers, he credits Julie with keeping the momentum going – and the awareness growing – each year.
"I feel God has planted this passion in me," says Julie. "I believe that I'm doing what He is guiding me to do. I couldn't do it without my faith and my family."
You can join the fight
Apply to lead your own Relay For Life team or join a team in your area.
When starting a new team, select Thrivent Financial from the drop-down list of company names.
To find a Thrivent team, go to Team and type in “Thrivent” for a list of Thrivent teams already participating.