When I say that I am the captain of a Relay team, it says nothing about my athletic prowesses in running, swimming, cross-country, or skiing. I do not strategize with my fellow team members for a plan of action that will undoubtedly make us winners, nor do I experience the blood pounding in my head as I rush to tag the next member of my team. But it would be a lie to say that my version of relaying does not bear similarities to the non-capital-R sports relays. Both versions involve competition, cheering, and–of course–relaying; but in Relay, we do not fight for the first place trophy, we “Relay for Life”.
What is Relay for Life?
Run by the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life is a community fundraising walk that works to raise money for the various programs run by the ACS, as well as funding for cancer research. These events are held by high schools, colleges, and even entire towns. Everyone gathers together to celebrate, remember, and fight back. Just as different sporting events are made up of teams competing against each other, Relay is also made up of many teams that try their best to raise the most money–engaging in friendly competition and knowing that everyone will benefit in the end as every dollar raised will aid the incredible efforts of the ACS.
For an all night event, participants come equipped with tents, food, blankets, lawn chairs, and–most importantly–a comfortable pair of shoes. From the moment Relay begins, most likely a Saturday evening, teams are encouraged to have at least one representative on the track until the end of the event early Sunday morning. The constant walking around the track symbolizes the fact that cancer never sleeps, and those who are battling it are fighting the disease day and night without rest. Throughout the night, there are various ceremonies that commemorate those who have passed away from cancer, cheer on those who are fighting cancer, and honor the survivors of the disease. These ceremonies involve speeches, music, slideshows, etc., depending on where the event is held and the Relay committee that works tirelessly to put together the entire night between its Activities & Entertainment, Fundraising, Food, Luminaria, Logistics, Sponsorship, Survivors, Publicity, Mission/Advocacy, and Team Development committees.
Why I Relay
For me, Relay holds a special candle in my heart–not only as an extracurricular activity, but as a personal means of fighting back and giving myself a voice. When I learned that my beloved Nana had stage four cancer in eighth grade, I felt so hopeless and desolate; what could I, a mere teenager, possibly do for the unbelievably strong and brave woman who had been there for me for all my successes and downfalls? What could I do to be there for her, just as she had been there for me in my times of need? As I organized garage sales, baked brownies, and sold bracelets with my team to raise money, I realized that Relay gave me a way to support my Nana indirectly by not only helping her, but by also aiding families with loved ones in the same situation with the dollars and cents that we raised–not to mention the support net that being involved in the event provided for me . Seeing the Luminaria bags glow beautifully against the dark night skies and the messages written on them to family members and friends who have fought or are fighting cancer never fails to give me hope.
Relay is a truly emotional event that brings everyone close together during the night while walking to battle cancer. Hearing fellow peers who have gone through similar experiences with their own loved ones and hearing the inspiring words and the incredible strength of survivors truly reminds people that they are never alone–that there will always be people fighting to end cancer and celebrate more birthdays. However, Relay for Life is not without its laughter and fun. Most Relays have DJs on-site to provide music to walk to all night, keeping people pumped and energized enough to stay up and watch the sunrise as they circle the track. Teams bring grills and loads of food to help them power through. Teams dress in festive t-shirts that show their team pride. In between ceremonies, various events– such as midnight football, tug-of-war, band performances, etc.–provide entertainment throughout the night.
Each of the three Relays I have been involved with, both as Team Captain and Committee Member, have been absolutely amazing life experiences. Relay for Life provided me a way to fight for my Nana and for others who are battling cancer, and helped me to realize that I am not alone. That there will always be people fighting tooth and nail to celebrate more birthdays in the world–until the words ‘you have cancer‘ becomes simply another medical diagnosis easily treated with a small tablet or simple shot. I Relay for my Nana. I Relay for the survivors. I Relay for those who are battling.
And I Relay for life.