Relay For Life of Middle Village participants walk ceremonial lap in Juniper Valley Park

Members of the Queens Relay for Life Committee and other relayers celebrate the first lap of 2023 at the newly renovated Juniper Valley Park track. (Photo by Caroline Ourso)

Devoted Relay For Life participants gathered at the newly renovated Juniper Valley Park track in Middle Village on Saturday, Jan. 7, to walk their first lap of 2023 and promote the upcoming relay.

Linda Helldorfer, a Queens Relay For Life committee member who has participated in the relay since its inception, walked a ceremonial lap with Louis Vega and other committee members and participants on Sunday morning, admiring the park renovations and reminiscing past relays.

“I first saw this event in Montana,” Helldorfer said. “I said to my husband, we should bring this to New York. You’re enjoying yourself, and at the same time, you’re doing something good. How could you not want to do this?”

After participating in the Queens relay with her husband for 14 years, Helldorfer’s husband was diagnosed with cancer himself.

“Who would have known,” said Helldorfer, who still is an avid participant in the relay six years after her husband’s passing.

“The relay isn’t for one type of cancer,” added Vega, who became involved in the event through Helldrofer’s influence. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve had or what somebody you know has had; you can come and join. It’s a good event for a good cause.”

(From l. to r.): Eileen Warren, Maria Vega, Luis Vega, Michael Rosellon and Kim Rosellon smile during the first lap of Relay for Life 2023 at the newly renovated Juniper Valley Park track. (Photo by Caroline Ourso)

Vega’s wife, Maria, is a cancer survivor, and Maria’s uncle, Michael Rosellon, was recently diagnosed.

Helldorfer said one of the perks of participating in the event is the relationships and connections that are formed with other participants.

“You really form strong bonds because we all have ties related to this,” Helldorfer said. “We’ve either lost people to cancer, or we know people who are struggling with it now.”

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Queens’ Relay For Life, and committee members and participants hope it will return to its longtime home of Juniper Valley Park track after two years away because of construction.

Vega, who, along with his wife, has participated in the Queens relay for 17 years, remarked that he was impressed by the renovations.

“I think they did a really good job,” Vega said. “It looks good.”

The new track would provide the perfect environment for the event’s 20th anniversary, but the New York City Parks Department still has to approve their permit.

“It’s a brand-new track, so we’re not sure yet,” said Maria Vega while holding her pet Beagle, KC, who is also a four-time cancer survivor.

A Relay For Life kickoff event will be held in the spring before the actual relay on June 24.

For more information, visit secure.acsevents.org/site/STR?pg=entry&fr_id=104027.