Relay for Life: returning to fight back

Luna BesaisoStaff Writer

I In 1985, in an attempt to help the American Cancer Society (ACS) raise funds, Dr. Gordy Klatt spent 24 hours walking and running at a local track. Friends paid to join his activity and run/walk with him throughout the day. Klatt envisioned the community coming together to fight cancer, and so he planned the first team relay to raise funds for ACS. His venture to prove that cancer doesn’t sleep inspired and altered the lives of millions, and Relay For Life became a worldwide event.
Cancer disease has notably emerged over the past few decades, and the world has been battling to find a cure.The Relay For Life (RFL) movement is dedicated to help communities combat the disease through awareness, research and endowments. Like every year, Gustavus Adolphus College was honored to host this event in Lund Arena on Friday, April 16.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) at Gustavus coordinates the event yearly. Junior Sydney Stumme-Berg, the co-president of the club, shared her attachment to Relay For Life.
“My grandpa passed away from cancer. To honor his memory, my family and I attended Relay For Life for the first time when I was four years old, and it has been a huge part of my life ever since. For that reason, displaying the event is both emotional and exciting for me. It is incredible to see the community coming together for a great cause, and actually providing valuable help for real change,” Stumme-Berg said.
Relay for Life is designed to be a friendly environment that is full of activities, food, music and entertainment. Their main goal is centered around raising money to research and find a cure for cancer. Gustie teams and student organizations set up booths and exhibits around and within the track, each team contributing to raise money and awareness while doing fun activities.
Among the exhibits, Big Partner/Little Partner (BPLP) held a “tie-dye” themed booth in the event. It is a program that matches youth from the St. Peter community with Gustavus students, they meet once a week for a couple of hours as a means to provide mentorship and foster friendships through various activities. Senior Bethany Tennis, member of BPLP, explains what it means for her organization to attend Relay for Life.
“Big Partner/Little Partner allows Gustavus students to engage with the surrounding community, and for little partners to form bonds with them and learn from their college experiences. BPLP is at Relay tonight because cancer affects everyone, and our big/little partners were affected by it in some sort of way. Although we are not able to have our partners join us on campus this year, it is important for a community-based organization like BPLP to attend Relay and emphasize the importance of community events and inclusivity,” Tennis said.
The Gustavus Tennis team has a special connection to Relay For Life. Steve Wilkinson, the founder of Tennis in Life Camps and the longtime men’s tennis coach, passed away in 2015 after enduring cancer for years. The team attends Relay every year, to support all cancer patients and to pay special tribute for Wilkinson. Pedro Gonzalez Menezes, a first-year tennis player, describes the team’s tie to RFL.
“It is a tradition for the tennis team to participate in Relay. We attend the event to honor Steve Wilkinson’s legacy, and to support cancer patients as much as we could. Almost every year, the tennis team raises the most money. We played water pong tournaments, badminton, cornholes, etc, and raised a little over $6,000. Because cancer affects everyone, we try to be present for our community and contribute towards a better world,” Gonzalez Menezes said
Physics Professors, Paul Saulnier and Darsa Donelan, came in second place for most donations.
In another approach to raise money, participants were welcome to dye their hair purple in solidarity with Cancer Awareness month. Saulnier and Donelan, both faculty physics professors, were leading the activity. They came in second place after the men’s tennis team for most donations raised. According to Saulnier, who attended Relay for the first time, their initial goal was to raise $250, but they were doing so well that by the end of the night they were able to collect over $2,000. Donelan explained why conducting this activity is significant for them.
“I was getting my undergraduate degree when my aunt passed away. After I was done with the degree, I reached out to many colleges for research collaboration in relation to health. Although it was outside of my physics education, I still wanted to give back. My aunt was an amazing woman. Last year of her life, everybody she worked with gave up their two-week vacation so she could have enough money to travel the world,” Donelan said.
The Luminaria ceremony is another incredible yet emotional chapter. Purple glow sticks are lit inside of the bags, and are placed around the track in a tribute to the ones who lose their fight against cancer, the survivors, and those whose fight continues. The ceremony takes place after dark, and participants are invited to share an emotional moment, an inspirational quote, or any kind of hopeful messages, and write it on the bag. It was a special moment for participants.
“Everyone comes in for a reason. They have their own stories, their own experiences, and the event provides a space to share them. The luminaries are incorporated at the end of the night as a reminder of why we relay and symbolizes why we chose to. It is one of my favorite things about the evening, you can see the whole room lit up during the service. The candle light is a guiding path, and we use it as a means to remembering the lights in our life,” Stumme-Berg said.
Although last year Relay For Life couldn’t be held, it returned this year to pick up where they left off. Though challenges involved carrying out an event while keeping people safe, the planning committee was able to pull it off. According to Stumme-Berg, over 150 Gustavus community members attended the event. Participants were asked to register prior to attending, wear their masks and maintain social distance. Despite these restrictions, Relay For Life was a success this year.

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