When Weldon Caldwell’s father succumbed to brain cancer at age 49, that shook the Ennis resident – hard.

“My father was the first impact of my life, and he passed away from brain cancer at the age of 49. That really struck me: for a man in as good health as he was to lose that fight was just terrible,” Caldwell said softly.

He is co-chair of this year’s Relay for Life in Ennis, where for the fifth year in a row, he’ll be joined by other Relayers from the Ennis area walking and fundraising for his dad, and for others like him. 

“I’ve had many family and friends who have battled this disease and lost the battle. Some have battled and won. But more than anyone likes to realizes, many battles are lost,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell got his start in Relay for Life in Ennis five years ago as a team member.

“It really struck me that a community could bond so much together and come out for a great cause – that’s just amazing,” he said.

 “The funds we raise go to cancer research and to help those getting treatment,” he said.  “The way those of us can help that aren’t in the medical and science fields is to Relay and to raise money to help with research.”

While teams start registering in earnest in March and early April, already, 24 confirmed teams are signed up – half of last year’s total event day turnout of 51. Encouraged by the numbers, organizers are hoping to assemble 65 confirmed teams this year.

The more Relayers, the more money raised for the American Cancer Society to combat cancer. 

“Our goal last year was $120,000 – we actually raised $154,000, which exceeded our goal. And we were just tickled about that. This year our goal is $185,000,” Caldwell said.

The Ennis Relay for Life will be held Friday, April 24 at the Texas Motorplex, from 6 p.m. - 6 a.m.

The change of venue occurred after Ennis I.S.D. tore down the former site, the old Ennis Junior High School football stadium, to make way for new school facilities.

“We were panicked and searching for a venue, but the Texas Motorplex greeted us with open arms and they rolled out the red carpet for us,” Caldwell said.

“We’re really excited. It’s actually going to be great.”

The Relay will take place in the “pit row,” on asphalt. There will be ample room for parking, always a plus.

“It’s a terrific location for it, pretty much centrally located. We’re already a marquee on their big board as Ennis Relay for Life,” Caldwell said.

With 29 committee members this year, the Ennis Relay for Life committee is the largest in the area, he said.

“I’m really excited about this year’s committee and their commitment. The community support is just unreal,” he said.

The Ennis Relay for Life earned a prestigious award from the American Cancer Society for having high per-capita donations, Caldwell noted..

“It’s  quite prestigious. We really do well in Ennis,” he said. “It’s something to note that in pretty tough economic times, the Ennis community still reaches deep in its pockets.  To see us meet and exceed our goals is really exciting. People believe in the American Cancer Society and what it does.”

Caldwell was the emcee of last year’s Mr. Relay event, in which a handful of brave and manly men got into drag for a cause, competing in full makeup and gal regalia for the winner’s tiara.

It was all in good fun, evoking catcalls and more importantly, donations, as the gentlemen vied for the banner and tiara.

With the Relay For Life stage doubling as a catwalk, the game contestants hobbled around heels. Some shook their booty a bit, others vamped it up as onlookers whooped and whistled and the music played. Pretty Woman. You Sexy Thing. Man, I Feel Like a Woman. I'm Too Sexy. If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body.

Asked why they were competing, over a third playfully played the pageant theme to the hilt and answered “World peace.”

“That was a huge success, and it was wonderful. During that hour and a half or so, onsite we actually raised over $1,800,” Caldwell said.

“It was a big hit, to see us big, ugly guys out there,” he said with a chuckle.

It could be the fun. It could be camaraderie. Or just the strength of memories that keep Ennis Relayers out walking the track, raising the money, each year.

“What’s really striking about the Ennis Relay for life is that while some area Relays have trouble keeping the team there 12 hours, 90 percent of our teams stayed the full 12 hours. That was just unbelievable and we are so proud of them,” Caldwell said.

“I don’t know a single soul who hasn’t been affected by cancer – it's unbelievable,” he said.

Looking to sign up? The next team captains meeting will be held Monday, March 9 at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Ennis at 7 p.m.

The Ennis Relay for Life will be held Friday, April 24 at the Texas Motorplex, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

E-mail J. Louise at jlouise.larson@wninews.com