BRADENTON BEACH -- Women, men and children came to walk on the beach Saturday. The occasion was more than just the typical warm Saturday on Anna Maria Island.
They were walking because of cancer: to celebrate those who have survived, to remember those who have been lost and in hope of finding a cure.
Many came out Saturday to Coquina Gulfside Park for Relay for Life, one of hundreds of fundraising events organized around the country by the American Cancer Society.
Jennifer Wertz was very proud and enthusiastic about walking in support of those affected by cancer, including herself.
"I am doing this for myself and so many family and friends," Wertz said. "I'm a survivor."
Wertz, once diagnosed with cervical cancer, is now cancer free, she said.
"I lost my mother, and my husband lost his mother to cancer," Wertz said. "It's something I am very passionate about."
Today, Wertz says her sons are the driving force for her
"My boys still have their mom, so I can see no better cause," Wertz said. "I am going to get to see them get married and have their children. I'm going to get to see them grow up. It's just awesome."
Participants began their event at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, with one member of each team of walkers remaining on the track at all teams until Sunday morning.
Organizers were pleased with the turnout on Anna Maria Island on Saturday.
"It's going pretty good so far," event chair Kim Bard said. "We will meet our goal by the end of the night. "
This year's theme was "Passports to a Cure," so each team represented a different country.
"It's bringing together a community for the passion of finding a cure and the fight against the disease," Bard said. "I've lost family to cancer."
Teacher Jenny McNally was brought to Saturday's event by her students at Braden River High School.
"They like to do this every year, so I like to come out and support them," McNally said.
McNally is their faculty adviser, she said. Students like sophomores Danielle Gray and Peyton Jones were among those who were walking on Saturday.
"It's just a great cause," Peyton said. "It just melts your heart when you are here."
For Peyton, the most inspiring part is to watch the survivors come out and walk.
"You get to see the survivors be more than just survivors," Peyton said.
For Danielle, the annual event hits closer to home.
"A lot of people in my family have had cancer, and my great-aunt died of cancer," Danielle said. "It's a great cause, and it's fun, too."
Danielle also likes to support the American Cancer Society and all its efforts, she added.
For Brandon White, a sophomore at Palmetto High, walking in the annual event is also a way to pay tribute to a lost loved one.
"I'm out here to support and carry on my grandmother's name," he said.
Brandon has participated each year since his grandmother lost her battle with cancer.
"I'm glad it became such a big thing, and I hope it continues to grow until it becomes almost a required thing," he said.
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.