Students passing by Palmer Field this weekend encountered an unusual sight: a ring of tents and thousands of students constantly circling the track, as well as flags, banners and a stage with live musicians.
The spectacle was the seventh-annual Relay for Life, a 24-hour fundraiser sponsored by the American Cancer Society. The event, according to the ACS website, raised more than $280.000 this year for cancer research.
“We have three mantras: ‘Celebrate, Remember, and Fight Back,’ ” said LSA junior Christine Schepeler, who was the event’s co-chair. “Celebrating everything that we’re doing, everything we’ve done; remembering those who we’ve lost and who are here with us; and fighting back is what we’re doing right now.”
The event consisted of 193 teams made up of 2,965 registered participants — 32 more teams and almost 400 more participants than last year’s relay. Despite the registered tally, Schepeler estimated more than 4,000 people participated throughout the day.
“I attribute that completely to the people on our committee,” she said, “and how much work they were willing to put in this year.”
Though many students were present to support the cause with their friends, the event held special significance for those in attendance who battled cancer themselves.
Colin Pineau, Saline High School senior and cancer survivor, said events like the Relay for Life have had a “direct impact” on his life and the lives of other cancer survivors.
“[Relay for Life] definitely spreads awareness,” Pineau said. “A lot of people get involved just to come and check it out, and it raises a lot of money.”
In addition to events throughout the day, including a boxcar race, basketball tournament and pie-eating contest, there were also two major ceremonies — the Fight Back Ceremony and the Luminaria Ceremony.
The Fight Back Ceremony on Saturday afternoon directed participants’ attention to dozens of small flags on a hill, representing the number of people in Washtenaw County who will be diagnosed with cancer this year. The speakers encouraged those present to do small things like urge others to quit smoking or exercise regularly to reduce their risk of cancer.
“We must fight back to honor the memories of all the people cancer has taken away from us,” said Zoltan Mesko, co-emcee for the event and redshirt senior punter for the football team.
At the candlelit Luminaria Ceremony on Saturday evening, participants watched a video of names and photographs of local residents who were either diagnosed with cancer or who passed away this past year as a result of the illness.
After a choral rendition of “Amazing Grace,” participants took a silent lap around the track, which was ringed with luminarias, each representing someone who has suffered from cancer.
Many student organizations, including Greek Life and multicultural groups, formed teams to raise money for the event. Some groups, like the Lovin’ Dans, were made up of friends who decided to come together and support the event.
LSA senior Michael Lampl, captain of the Lovin’ Dans, said his group has been a part of the event since his freshman year. He said this year’s Relay seemed to have more participants and events than in the past.
“Everything about this event is pretty positive,” he said. “It’s a really fun day, especially when the weather is nice like today.”
Pineau encouraged students not involved in this year’s Relay for Life to consider being a part of next year’s event.
“It’s like a party; everybody has a lot of fun,” Pineau said. “Even if you have no connections with anybody with cancer at all you’re going to have a great time and you’re going to do something good doing it.”
Business senior Kaylin Connors, co-chair of the event, said the relay exceeded her expectations in the amount of money raised and student participation.
“It made me feel like we’re uniting for one common cause,” she said. “People will still come together and do something good in an economy that’s not doing really well at all.”