On Saturday night 2,500 Cornell and Ithaca College students gathered at Barton Hall to raise money and awareness for cancer as part of the third annual Relay for Life. Volunteers at the event raised over $203,000, all of which will be donated to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
This year’s Relay for Life, complete with fundraising events, entertainment and health awareness promotions, was organized by the Cornell chapter of Colleges Against Cancer, a nationwide organization created to spread awareness about cancer.
“We do big events like Relay for Life and also smaller events for breast cancer awareness and lung cancer awareness,” said Amanda Gordon ’07, co-president of CAC at Cornell.
Teams of students from Cornell and Ithaca College began the walk at 7 p.m. on Saturday night, and each of the 120 teams had members walking around Barton Hall’s track in shifts until 7 a.m. Sunday morning. The Relay officially kicked off with a victory lap, which was led by survivors of cancer and followed by those who had either directly or indirectly been affected by the disease.
“Everyone has a reason to relay, whether you’ve had cancer, cared for someone with cancer or known someone with cancer,” said Jenna Barci ’07, co-president of the CAC at Cornell.
Many of the individuals who walked throughout the night shared the same story of the pain and inspiration cancer brings, and many of the activities at Relay focused on remembering and honoring those who were affected by cancer. Walkers wore stars with names of family members and friends who had suffered through cancer and lit luminaries in honor of cancer survivors and those lost to the disease.
“It’s things like Relay that make me remember,” said Diana Magee ’08 as she decorated a luminary for her grandparents.
The memories and hope that Relay inspired are what led all of the teams to do large-scale fundraising in the months before the event. Kappa Delta led the teams in fundraising, raising over $14,000, most of which was raised by Brianna Harris ’07.
“All the girls did and amazing job, but Bri really went above and beyond what anyone expected,” said Katie Richarson ’09, philanthropy chair for Kappa Delta.
Donations that went toward the ACS were taken at virtually all of the numerous activities at Relay, including a hula hoop contest, a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament and a Miss Relay contest.
“I had to be late to the event, so my girlfriend made me dress up for the Miss Relay contest. Plus I hate cancer,” said Dan Treitler ’07, a member of the team Bejewler’s Revenge, who raised $168 by dressing as a woman for the contest.
One of the most popular fundraisers at the event was a ten-dollar-a-piece haircut offer. Sharilyn Brandel ’10 was one of about 20 people who cut off at least 10 inches of their hair to donate it to Locks of Love, an organization that provides hairpieces to children under age 18 suffering from long-term medical hair loss.
“I wanted to get my hair cut anyway, and I thought why not do it for a good cause,” said Brandel.
A capella groups, dance troupes, the Cornell steel drum band, Phenomenon Step Team and a variety of others provided the entertainment for the event.
“We think it’s a very important cause,” said Mariana Torres-Viso ’09, who is part of Sabor Latino, one of the first acts to perform at Relay. “We want to help the community and represent the Latino community reaching out.”
Members of CAC also manned a health education booth to raise awareness for the consequences of dangerous habits, like smoking or getting too much sun.
“It’s about awareness and students helping themselves and their families avoid risk,” said Jessica Meyers ’08, a member of the committee for CAC activities.
The night also included personal testimonies relating to cancer, one of which was given by Meredith Odato ’08, who was on the Cornell Faithful relay team. Odato’s father was diagnosed with cancer in January 2004, and after months of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant is now cancer free.
“This Relay for Life was really special because my dad was finally able to come,” Odato said
With all the entertainment, activities and free food, organizers of the event and team leaders had no trouble keeping team members motivated to walk throughout the night. With themed laps like a leap-frog lap and a congo line, there was a continuous stream of walkers and runners going around the track into the early hours of Sunday morning.
“I’ve been walking most of the night, and compared to our hour-and-a-half tours uphill and facing backwards this is nothing,” said Ashley Ferro-Murray ’08 who was part of a team of Cornell tour guides and whose mom is a breast cancer survivor.
Between entertainment acts, students from WVBR-FM kept teams energized with a mix of popular songs that walkers sang and danced to around the track.
“It’s such a great time, and its such an amazing event for such an amazing cause, and we’re having so much fun playing music for everyone,” said Jordan Gremli ’08, general manager for WVBR.
The proud and the few who remained at the event until the end were treated to doughnuts and an awards ceremony to honor those who had raised the most money.
Last year the Cornell and Ithaca College Relay for Life raised the most money per capita of all of the Relays in the entire nation, and organizers were proud to have beaten that number for this year.