Relay for Life: An exercise in resilience


Fundraising for cancer research, 12 years in the making

On Saturday, April 18, members of the SLU community gathered on the track at Hermann Stadium for the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.

In Relay’s 12th year of raising money and awareness for the fight against cancer at SLU, the event had 1,670 participants and raised $167,346.64, which was around $25,000 more than the year before.

“Our Event Leadership Team worked so hard all year to plan this event, and it was so powerful to see all of that hard work pay off on Saturday,” said Relay co-chair Erin Steiner, who has been involved with the organization since high school. “We made our focus sharing the mission of Relay For Life with the SLU community, and our team did an incredible job doing that all year long.”

The event was kicked off by the annual survivor lap. Cancer survivors from the SLU community walked in one direction on the track while their caregivers went in the opposite direction, meeting in the middle to release balloons, which allowed the rest of the participants to join in the first official lap.

For the duration of the 12-hour event, participants could continue to walk laps, watch the live entertainment of the various SLU performance groups and purchase goods sold by the participating teams.

After the sun went down, the participants gathered in the stands again for the Luminaria ceremony.

“This is where we have the chance to reflect on why we are here,” said co-chair Jay Bryant, who began participating in Relay as a third grader.

Luminarias are white paper bags that contain votive candles and are generally decorated and dedicated to someone who has been affected by cancer. During the ceremony, the bags are lined around the track, and the candles inside are lit.

“As we light the candles, we not only remember the loved ones who are no longer with us, but those who have survived,” said Bryant. “They are ‘lights of hope,’ which inspire us to keep fighting until there is a cure.”

The Luminaria ceremony also included a special tribute to Sarah Wielgos, a SLU student and Event Leadership Team member for Relay, who passed away from cancer in January 2015.

“Receiving ‘that’ phone call … is still hard for me to comprehend,” said Bryant. “Although our Relay Event Leadership Team has suffered immensely by her passing, we’ve been even more motivated to make this year’s event special.”

The tribute included senior SLU student Garvaundo Hamilton singing a rendition of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.”

“We wanted to make sure we could honor Sarah in a special way at Relay this year, and I think her presence and light was felt very strongly throughout the night,” said Steiner.

The ceremony also included speaker, Rhonda Brown, who shared the story of her nine-year-old son, Joshua, and his fight against brain cancer. Joshua had been able to make a special connection with the Billikens men’s basketball team during the 2012-13 season, which included a trip to San Jose with the team for the NCAA tournament, before he passed away in June 2013. After his passing, the Brown family founded Joshua’s Great Things Foundation to raise funds and awareness for pediatric brain cancer.

The participants were then invited to line the track and light candles, while names of those who have been affected by cancer were read and remembered.

“Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a friend, or a stranger, reflecting on how cancer has impacted so many lives reminds us that no one has to fight cancer alone,” said Bryant.

At around 5 a.m. on Sunday, the event came to an end with the closing ceremony, which included a final reveal of how much money had been raised for the event.

“When Jay and I stood on the field at closing ceremonies before the final reveal, we both agreed we were not even thinking about the total fundraising number because the feeling of community at the event was so overwhelmingly positive,” said Steiner.

Bryant agreed, saying, “I think it is easy to get caught up in the numbers … the people that Erin and I have met, from passionate students to inspiring cancer survivors, has been the best part of the experience.”

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