Fight Cancer One Mascot at a Time

by Kelli Warner
Springfield, OR

If you had asked Derek Zinser five years ago if he would ever imagine he’d be herding mascots to break a world record, he would have said you were crazy.

But things change when you lose someone you love to cancer.

Derek’s dad died of lymphoma on New Year’s Day in 2009. Two incredible things happened after that. Derek chose to get involved in the fight against cancer, and he had a really great idea how to do it. Inspired by Capital One’s Mascot Challenge, Derek thought it would be fun to gather a variety of mascots together at the Eugene/Springfield Relay for Life, a 24-hour walk to support the American Cancer Society.

“We started with Sluggo,” Derek told me. He’s the enthusiastic and often unpredictable green bear that any Eugene Emeralds baseball fan would recognize in a heartbeat. Once Sluggo and the Ems were on board, “Mascots for a Cause” was born. In 2011, 16 mascots gathered at the relay, inspiring Derek to think even bigger. He did some research to see if, by chance, there was a Guinness world record for the most mascots in one place at one time. Sure enough, there was.

“It was set in Germany that same year with 162 mascots,” Derek explained. Without hesitation, he set out to bust that record at the 2012 Eugene/Springfield relay, by putting out a call for all mascots to assemble. And they did. From the Oregon Duck and Benny the Beaver, to fast food icons and well-known cartoon characters, they showed up in droves. To say it was quite a sight would be an understatement of gigantic proportions. And it wasn’t just the colorful, bulbous-headed characters arm in arm, marching en masse along the Willamette High School track that was so amazing. It was much more than that.

“It was emotional,” Derek admits. “To see a bunch of mascots walking out to Sister Sledge’s song ‘We are Family’, it’s a neat thing, because they are there to fight cancer, too. Because they care as well. You definitely don’t see that every day.”

Despite the incredible showing, Derek came up six mascots short in breaking the world record. But just as the saying goes “if at first you don’t succeed…” Derek began working on a second attempt at the 2013 Relay for Life set for this Friday and Saturday, July 25-26. The mascots will again be there, but unfortunately, Derek already knows his efforts, although still raising money for ACS, won’t be breaking any record this year. Wouldn’t you know it, someone already did.

“It was set last year in Tokyo, Japan with 263 mascots,” Derek said a little disappointed, but not at all discouraged. He says he’s determined that “Mascots for a Cure” will have its day. He’s already networking with companies across the country including several teams in the NBA like the Portland Trailblazers to join a record-breaking attempt at the 2014 Portland Rose Festival. Companies can make a tax-deductible donation of 100-dollars to have their mascot participate and all the money raised will benefit the American Cancer Society.

Derek is confident 2014 is the year for a successful world record attempt. In the meantime, you can stop by the Relay for Life in Eugene this Saturday to support the cause. Just go to for more information.

Derek sees big things happening in the future in the fight against cancer and he can feel that his dad is watching it all. “I know that he’s definitely smiling down and excited about it. For me personally, I wish he was here to see it. I know he would enjoy it.”

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