Annual Relay for Life event beats weather, raises cancer awareness

Local cancer survivors and their families walk the Survivor’s Lap, the first lap of Relay for Life. (credit: Jessica Sochol/) Local cancer survivors and their families walk the Survivor’s Lap, the first lap of Relay for Life. (credit: Jessica Sochol/)

As the sun began to set on last Friday evening, Carnegie Mellon students took to the Cut to begin the 2011 Relay for Life.

Running from 6 p.m. Friday evening to 6 a.m. Saturday morning, Relay for Life was held to benefit the American Cancer Society. It aims to fund cancer research and provide outreach to current patients, with the eventual goal of finding a cure for and a way to prevent cancer.

Last year, Carnegie Mellon helped raise an estimated $38,000 for the American Cancer Society. This year, there were 37 teams registered with 362 participants, with the goal of raising $39,500.

This year’s top three fundraising teams were Pi Kappa Alpha, Sigma Alpha Iota, and Alpha Chi Omega. The top fundraising participants were Jennie Tang, a senior economics and modern languages double major; Sarah Gorman, a junior design major; and James Owens, a senior electrical and computer engineering major.

Despite initial concerns over rainy weather while the event was being set up, coordinators still made preparations. Prerak Patel, a junior biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering double major, was the logistics coordinator and said that the relay was “a rain-or-shine event.”

However, by the time the participants took to the Cut, the weather had largely cleared; a rainbow was the only remnant of the previously inclement weather.

Like all Relay for Life events, Carnegie Mellon’s effort contained three key traditions: the Survivor’s Lap, the Luminaria Ceremony, and the Fight Back Ceremony.

Starting off the relay, the Survivor’s Lap is a tribute to all of those who beat cancer, in which local cancer survivors and their families complete the first lap. Shortly after, the Luminaria Ceremony was conducted; lighted bags, created in memory of cancer victims, were lined around the track. Finally, the Fight Back ceremony had attendees make a personal commitment to fight against cancer and to help those who are suffering from the disease.

This is Relay for Life’s second year on the Cut, after previously being held in Gesling Stadium. This decision, Patel said, was made partly due to logistic issues when operating in Gesling, but mostly to encourage campus awareness and participation.

Kristen Minno, a senior modern languages student and Science and Humanities Scholar, was the event’s co-chair. Minno first got involved with Relay for Life at her high school, and she was inspired to participate in memory of her friend’s mother, who had passed away from breast and lung cancer the year before she started participating. “We wanted to do something that would honor her,” Minno said.

BioSac team co-captain Katherine Forsyth, a junior biology major, said that Relay for Life “was a very great way of raising awareness for cancer research.” Forsyth went on to emphasize the communal spirit of the event between teams and participants.

BioSac runner Dagney Cooke, first-year in the Mellon College of Science, agreed. She described the event as “a fun way to give back.” Fellow participant Rene Francolini, a first-year in Mellon College of Science, added that the event “was a great way to bond with people.”

The teams relayed through the night, aided by music and performances by the Kiltie Band, Bhangra, acapella groups, Dancers’ Symposium, and other student organizations.

The event finally drew to a close Saturday morning with little fanfare. As the participants were leaving, the total donation count stood at $24,510 — a significant amount of fundraising, but not as large the intended goal. Minno said that the Relay organizing committee believes the lower donation total resulted from past top fundraisers graduating and lower turnout at the event.

Despite the lower overall total, individual participants raised more individually, "demonstrating that the quality of fundraising per team is increasing," Minno said. Additionally, donors can continue contributing to this year's Relay event until August 2012.