CORNELIUS – With just a few weeks before the area’s Relay For Life event, the Cornelius CruZers have cruised their way into being one of the top fundraising teams and don’t show signs of slowing down.

Team Captain and Cornelius Town Clerk Lori Harrell and the rest of the CruZers have raised more than $5,000, benefiting the American Cancer Society through Relay For Life of Huntersville and Cornelius.

They hope to continue spreading awareness throughout town while raising money by “painting” Cornelius purple and though their “Loved Ones in Lights” campaign. (See breakout box for details).

The Cornelius CruZers is just one of the 35 teams that has committed to participating, though there is still time to join. The event takes place at Bailey Road Park, 11536 Bailey Road, Cornelius, from 7 p.m. May 2 to 7 a.m. May 3. Donations accounted for so far online total nearly $19,000.

Often confused with a race, Relay For Life has no running or timing. The goal is simply to have at least one team member walking at any given time throughout the event. Each year more than 4 million people participate internationally.

“I didn’t know it was that big of a thing,” said CruZer team member and town staff member Mindi Stoner. “The community is coming together and contributing and really stepping up. It’s gaining momentum.”

The night of the event, each team will continue hosting fundraisers to benefit the American Cancer Society. Plus, the community event is an opportunity to celebrate with cancer survivors and walk to remember those who have died.

Harrell knew Relay was her chance to get involved having lost her mom and her best friend to cancers within 16 months. She also celebrated her brother being five years cancer-free.

Since hearing about it from Relay Chairs Colin Furcht and Marilynn Celenza, Harrell threw herself into action — recruiting team members from town staff and commissioners and finding ways to raise money.

Stepping up to participate was Betsy Shores of the police department. She lost her mother from leukemia six years ago. Taking laps, Shores said she will be thinking about what her mom went through with her hours of treatment and will channel it into something positive.

Greg Provenzano and Robert Stevanovski, of ACN, gave a $2,500 sponsorship to the team after hearing about it.

“We thought it was a great cause with some great people and we always want to do everything we can to help the community we all live in,” Stevanovski said.

Rick Zoerb, of Lake Norman Infiniti, gave $500 to show his commitment to town while supporting the cause.

Anyone is invited to attend Relay regardless if they are part of a team or plan to attend the whole event.

Cheer on survivors, their caregivers and all of the Relay teams during the first laps after the opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. Food and other items will be available for purchase with money going to the cause. After dark, the luminaria ceremony takes place with small candlelit bags in memory of those who died of cancer lighting the way for walkers.

Through her research of American Cancer Society, Harrell was inspired by knowing its programs aren’t simply for the patients but for the entire family. She wished she had someone sit with her mom when she couldn’t or reach out in other ways.

The money goes toward cancer research, rides for patients, support from peers, beauty techniques and running the organization.

“It makes me want to get more involved,” Harrell said. “I see myself staying involved in some way, shape or form after the event. I don’t think I can let a year go by until next year's Relay. Something is driving me and I know it’s my mom and my best friend.”