They walked the walk. All night long.

Fairfield Relay for Life, held on the grounds of Fairfield Ludlowe High School, saw thousands take to the school's track from Saturday evening into Sunday morning, stepping up in support of the fight against cancer.

The largest fundraiser in the area benefiting the American Cancer Society, this year's event drew 173 fundraising teams, with roughly 1,800 participants. Organizers noted that, as of Friday morning, $216,000 had been pledged, and in Fairfield over the 16 years there has been a Relay for Life fundraiser, $3 million has been raise for the cancer society.

In recent years, the event has taken on a festival-like atmosphere, with music, food sales, speakers and more.

A traditional, more somber feature was the lighting of luminaria dedicated to the memory of loved ones who had lost their battle with cancer.

Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau was one of the featured speakers, welcoming the gathering to the event. Tetreau's mother, Rowena, had died June 4, which put him in an especially sympathetic frame of mind with attendees who had lost loved ones. "This fight is a fight we have to win," he said. "I lost my mom last week. Let's win this fight to no one has to lose their mom to cancer."

Debbie Dwyer delivered powerful remarks to those assembled. "This is my 10th Relay for Life -- I started as a survivor," she said. "I'm a 15-year survivor of breast cancer. I got the bad news just after my 50th birthday. I have been cancer free since my mastectomy in 1997."

Dwyer said there was a history of cancer in her family and named several relatives who had been stricken. Her overarching message was that these medical histories should not be ignored and early detection is key.

Taking a lap with her daughter Traci Galla and husband Bill, Trumbull resident Maureen Maher said she is a nine-year survivor of breast cancer and that there is a history of cancer in the family. She felt elevated by the Relay for Life event. "It's a great feeling to be here," she said. "It gives you hope to see all the survivors. All these people know how you feel."

Coordinating the whole event was Alex Goldowsky, a volunteer chairman who noted that this was his tenth event in Fairfield and he coordinated another similar event over his four years at Boston College.

Relay for Life planning is no easy task. "We began talking about this year's event at the end of the last one, with things really picking up in September and October," he said. "It's a massive event. Eighteen hundred people registered but with attendees, the numbers expand to 3,000 to 4,000 people."

And, he added, "Participants keep me coming back. They shock and amaze me with their creativity, and make it truly unique. I'm so proud to be involved and can't thank everyone enough for being here. Fingers crossed, we'll raise over $300,000 ultimately."