Family and friends gathered around alongside community well-wishers and political supporters of the cause.
Mayor Tom Rowland greeted the audience with well-wishes and thanked the Cooke Family for its support of the relay.
He assured everyone the runners would be safe as Debbie Melton of Don Ledford Automotive Center activated the OnStar services in the four vehicles.
Rowland added, “OnStar saved mine and Sandra’s lives one time, so you are going to be protected.”
He made a donation from his family to the cause before passing the microphone off to state Rep. Eric Watson.
“You are representing Tennessee. What’s also good is you are taking God’s message, this is God’s country in East Tennessee, you are taking it all the way up there,” Watson said. “Our prayers are with you ... and God bless you. We love you.”
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire showed off his running shoes to the crowd. He said wearing the shoes was the closest he would come to joining the run at his age.
“We’ll be thinking about you and praying for you and watching the end result when you get there,” he said. “I think you all are brave for doing this. It takes a lot of time.”
State Sen. Jim Tracy said he is running for Congress the way the relay participants are running to Boston.
“Thank you for your physical commitment ... and all the sponsors for doing it. Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State. You are representing the great state of Tennessee. We will be following you,” Tracy said. “We will be praying for you.”
Executive Assistant to the Bradley County Mayor Lindsay Hathcock presented relay organizer Matt Ryerson with a can of Febreeze. Hathcock thought it might keep the cars smelling fresh in spite of the 1,075-mile journey.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks finished off the show of political support with the reading of Senate Joint Resolution 816 to honor the relay team.
“Whereas for generations from the war of 1812 to Davey Crockett and the Alamo, the people of Tennessee have answered the call for volunteers by helping those in need,” Brooks read. “The Run Now Relay running team of Cleveland is proving that volunteerism is still alive and well in the City of Spirit and in the Volunteer state.”
Ryerson followed the short speeches with a call for the 26 runners and support crew to load into the awaiting car caravan.
He said the runners’ progress can be checked online at runnowrelaylive.com via the GPS device “Gpsy.” The new website will be used for the duration of the relay. Those interested may click on the “About,” “Charities,” “Photo,” “Video,” “Follow us Live” and “Sponsors” tabs for more information. Updates will be provided under the “Social Media” tab.
According to Run Now Director of Social Media Clark Campbell, all shoutouts at Run Now on Twitter will either be retweeted or receive a response. He encouraged everyone to go online to explore the new website.
Now that the Relay team has reached its $50,000 community goal, the team is trying to raise $1,000 for every state it passes through. Pathway Press donated 3,000 fundraising cards with the tagline “Don’t Wait. Donate.” to be passed out along the eight-day journey. Campbell encouraged the community to jump on board the new initiative.
Bonlife Coffee has also agreed to donate $1 for every new Facebook “like” up to $1,000. The Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/RunNowRelay.
An escort provided by the Cleveland police and fire departments kept Relay Runner Tim Spires safe as he started the first leg of the journey.