By Michelle Lee, UCSC Communications Intern
It’s a balmy evening in May, and people are starting to descend on Stagg Field of UChicago’s Ratner Athletic Center. Amidst the hubbub are high school students, college students, parents, children, police officers, and a diverse mix of other community members. It’s a vibrant crowd, and they’re here for one thing: cancer awareness.
Relay for Life is an annual American Cancer Society event that seeks to celebrate those who have defeated cancer, memorialize cancer victims, and raise money for cancer research, advocacy, and patient services. It is an immensely successful event that has inspired and continues to inspire a sense of unity and purpose in the Hyde Park community. Each year, more than 4 million people in over 20 countries take part in this global phenomenon, raising much-needed funds and awareness to fight cancer.
At the University of Chicago, Colleges Against Cancer, the CSRSO (Community Service Recognized Student Organization), organizes the event. Maria Acevedo, a fourth-year student in the College and self-proclaimed Relay for Life-er, remarked that it takes about a year to plan. “Different members in our board take on different responsibilities, some of them get in touch with RAs or other RSOs to recruit new participants, others have to contact as many sponsors as possible to support our event, and others have to come up with a list of activities to do during the actual event,” she said, adding that, “fundraising is the most important part…[requiring] the work of not only board members but also of participants to fundraise on their own.”
All that effort goes into creating a brilliant overnight spectacle that offers students, staff, faculty, and community members a chance to make a difference. Teams of 8-20 people register and aim to raise at least $100. The opening ceremony features a victory lap led by cancer survivors, after which team members take turns walking or running laps throughout the duration of the event. Various team activities also take place, allowing for teams to compete and win prizes. The night culminates with a solemn candle-lit lap around the track to honor those who have lost their lives to cancer.
“I want students and faculty to know that Relay for Life is a great way to have fun by helping a good cause,” said Acevedo. “It is not hard to take part in this. It is a beautiful and meaningful experience.
On this particular night, people are throwing around footballs and frisbees, lounging on the grass with snacks, jumping around in the bouncy castle, and duking it out in blown-up samurai suits. Though they have been drawn together by a serious cause, they are here to build a sense of community with others.
“I relayed for the first time on May of 2010, and it was an extraordinary experience,” Acevedo said. “I have relayed every year since then and I hope to continue to do so once I graduate since there is a Relay for Life event almost in every community around the US.”
Acevedo is currently the Relay for Life Chair of UChicago’s Colleges Against Cancer chapter. When asked why she is involved in Relay for Life, the answer was simple: “I know very few people who haven't been touched by cancer,” Acevedo said. “It is a disease that, in most cases, can't be prevented and when it comes, it does it in a very aggressive form.”
She continued, “However, I have never met a person who has given up. They are all strong people that hope for a world without cancer. What we do at Relay is…fight back so that no more people have to go through cancer.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many, as evident by the huge turnout every year. Relay for Life consistently raises tens of thousands at each annual event. At the first University of Chicago event in 2009, over 300 students participated and raised more than $37,000 for the American Cancer Society. This past spring, over 550 people participated and raised over $57,000—double the amount raised in 2011.
“The most exciting part was that we had so many participants coming from other areas in Chicago and not just Hyde Park,” said Acevedo. “This tells us that our event is truly expanding and reaching more and more people each year.”
Colleges Against Cancer is just one of more than 70 CSRSOs in which students can get involved. For more information, contact Crystal Coats at firstname.lastname@example.org.