Some people run for exercise. Some people walk for fun. Some people do both to cure cancer.
About 800 students braved the cold at Palmer Field on Saturday and Sunday to participate in Relay for Life, a 24-hour event to raise money and awareness for cancer research. In its inaugural year at the University, students raised more than $80,000 for the American Cancer Society.
The event was both social and somber. Several bands and musical groups came to provide a fun atmosphere, and other activities such as midnight basketball helped participants pass the time.
A special emphasis was placed on honoring cancer survivors and remembering those who lost their lives to the disease. From 9 to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night, the relay paused for a ceremony and time of reflection.
The Luminaria ceremony involved the track being lined with candlelit bags, each with the name of either a survivor or a victim. The Luminaria bags also spelled HOPE on the hill above the field and formed a heart.
“There were some tears, and there was lots of emotion,” said Rackham student Krista Powers, a cancer survivor. She added that during the Luminaria ceremony, all the participants walked two laps together – one to honor cancer survivors, and one to remember those who died.
Several cancer survivors were invited to address the participants and share their personal stories. “It was a beautiful, supportive environment – being able to tell people I had cancer and seeing their reactions,” Powers said.
Listening to peers share their stories helped make students more aware of the nearness and reality of cancer. “Hearing that kind of thing just makes you realize how fortunate you are,” said Kate Cegelias, LSA senior and publicity chair for the event.
Student teams demonstrated their commitment to fighting cancer in the bitter cold and into the early daylight hours. LSA junior Yael Zohar was captain of the MRUN team, which won the Most Motivated Team award. She said her team trained for the relay for two months, and ran over 175 miles on Saturday. “The whole process has been inspiring,” she added.
LSA senior Henna Tirmizi walked from 3 to 5 a.m. and said she struggled to keep warm in the cold. She added that the night was a good time to think about the people who battle cancer. “Your heart goes out to them – you feel in awe of their strength,” Tirmizi said.