On hearing the group name “Relay For Life,” many people ask me how I can possibly run all night long, even for such a great cause. Well, if you’re one of those people who has evaded Relay For Life in the past out of a fear of having to run for twelve hours, you’re in luck. Relay For Life actually requires no athletic ability at all – it is an annual, all night event full of ceremonies, games, entertainment and food, and the purpose is to fundraise as much money as possible to support the American Cancer Society. Teams generally take turns sending one member to walk the track so that one person from every team is walking at all times. Relay For Life is, internationally, the American Cancer Society’s largest fundraiser. 100% of donations go to the ACS, where they are divided up into funds that help support Hope Lodges, provide rides to treatment centers for cancer patients, connect cancer patients with survivors who can relate to them, sponsor scholarships for cancer survivors, and, of course, contribute to the search for a cure.
Just a cool side note – Relay For Life stems from the efforts of one dedicated man, Dr. Gordy Klatt, who actually ran for 24 hours around a track in 1985 – for more than 83 miles – to raise money to fight cancer. Over 300 of his friends watched and donated as Klatt proved that, cliché as it is, impossible is nothing. He raised $27,000 in 24 hours. If one man can succeed at such a feat, imagine what we can do as an entire campus.
When I first arrived at Hopkins and attended the awesome and very overwhelming Student Activities Fair, I signed up for the Relay For Life e-mail list; my town at home never had a Relay, so I was excited to become a part of the group and apply to be marketing & publicity co-chair. So many people in my family and so many of my friends have lost people close to them to this horrible disease, and its prevalence in our society terrifies me – I wanted to join Relay to fight back. Fortunately, I became marketing & publicity co-chair, and I loved being on the executive board so much that I reapplied and still hold the position. Our event co-chairs and the executive board work extremely hard all year to create, plan, and fundraise for this event, and our goal is to get the entire campus and the Baltimore community to come out and support this amazing cause (while having fun and making a difference simultaneously).
Relay For Life at Hopkins takes place on the upper Quad (unless it rains, in which case we move to the indoor track at the Rec Center – equally as fun), and I can vouch that the entire night is beautiful in a million different ways. Despite the fact that I helped plan the event last year, I had no idea what to expect. After finishing set-up and successfully constructing a balloon arch, we watched as people started streaming in. The night was crisp, clear and a little bit windy, as we later learned in the Luminaria ceremony. Teams pitched their tents all around the quad, fundraising stations popped up everywhere (think tons of bake sales, inflatable jousting, video game stations, cotton candy, etc.), and the quad truly came to life with the community’s collective enthusiasm. The cancer survivors at the event start off the night with the kick-off lap; it is a remarkable sight to watch them walk together, reminding us why we Relay in the first place. This part of the night comprises the “celebrate” aspect of the “celebrate, remember, fight back” slogan as we seek to celebrate the lives of these strong, inspirational cancer survivors.
Next is the Luminaria ceremony, which is aesthetically beautiful – the quad is lined with paper Luminaria bags that each hold a burning candle, and we usually try to spell out “Hope” in Luminaria bags on the Gilman steps. These bags honor individual people touched by cancer, and the mere number of bags present at the event has a huge emotional impact on everyone in attendance. Last year, it was so windy that some of the bags lit on fire… it was almost disastrous, but we were luckily prepared with back-up electric candles! Luminaria is part of the “remember” ceremony – we remember the lives of those who lost their battles, but it is also motivation for the “fight back” ceremony for those in the midst of cancer. In the actual “fight back” ceremony, everyone makes a personal commitment to save lives by joining the fight against cancer.
Relay at JHU was a blast – my friends and I had a great time while supporting an outstanding cause. My favorite part of the night was when my friend Lindsay and I sprinted around the track at two or three in the morning due to the insane amount of sugar we consumed (how can you say no to a cupcake that will support the fight against cancer?). I stayed almost all night – my spring allergies were in full throttle so actually sleeping outside was not looking too promising – and I groggily returned to the quad very early on Saturday morning to help clean up. The most dedicated Relayers were welcoming the morning from their tents, and I took a moment to take in what I had been a part of the night before. It feels good to take a stand against cancer, and it feels even better when you see all of your hard work come together between the Gilman steps and our good friend Milton E. Eisenhower, culminating in this rare unification of the community with one goal in mind: stopping cancer in its tracks.
There is no doubt that Relay For Life at JHU will be even better this year. To top the crazy dance party that broke out in the middle of the night last year, Relay has invited some of the campus’ top entertainment groups to come and perform. Some groups include Adoremus, S.L.A.M., the Eclectics, Vivaz, JOSH, the Sirens, the Octopodes, the Vocal Chords, the Allnighters and JHEC. If that doesn’t convince you, what if I told you that Miss Maryland will be here to help out with the notorious Miss Relay Pageant? You do NOT want to miss this.
One night, one fight. Relay the message, and I hope to see you there.