Walking for a Cause: Fairfield’s Fifth Relay for Life

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As the sun rose over Fairfield University at 6 a.m. on Saturday, April 30, the traffic circle was more populated than usual.  A group of exhausted students gathered in the brisk morning air to hear the closing remarks of Fairfield University’s fifth annual Relay for Life organized by the club Colleges Against Cancer (CAC). This year, the event raised $41,250, with donations still being accepted.

The event began on Friday evening at 6 p.m. and went for a full 12 hours through the night, symbolizing cancer patients’ struggle through the darkness of their illness into the hope for a cure.

“I think what really kept me going and awake was the fact that most of my team was still there going strong,” said freshman Anne Marie Teti, who made it the whole night. Teti decided to participate in Relay for her grandmother who passed away from leukemia.  “I felt the need to walk for her as well as for all the others who lost loved ones to cancer,” she said.

Meredith Davide ’12 was one of the three chairs organizing this year’s event. Davide was first inspired to join CAC because cancer has touched the lives of many people close to her.  “It is amazing to watch the Fairfield community unite on a Friday night at the heart of our campus, working so hard for this cause that means so much to me,” she said.

The planning of Relay for Life is a semester-long process that requires time and dedication.  “We start planning the next year’s Relay as soon as the event ends,” said Jessica Gilpin ’12, another one of the chairs.  “There are many different aspects that need to be thought of and worked through, so as the event draws near, it takes over all your thoughts!”

Each year, CAC picks a theme for Relay for Life, and teams decorate their campsites and hold onsite fundraisers which accompany this theme.  This year’s theme was birthdays, echoing the American Cancer Society’s claim of being “the official sponsor of birthdays.”  In total, 540 people attended in 47 teams ranging in themes from Disney Princess birthday party to 21st Birthday.

The event highlighted two Fairfield students who gave brief speeches about the importance of Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society.  Chris Mandly ‘13, a survivor of skin cancer, first took the stage to share his story in the opening ceremony. “While I was giving the speech, all I kept thinking was just how blessed I am,” Mandly said.  However, reflecting on his experience was not easy. “I have never really looked back on that time because it consisted of me on a couch with my mom watching over me with tear-filled eyes every second of the day,” he said.

Andrea Irwin ’13 also shared how her life was affected by cancer. Irwin’s triplet brother Nick was diagnosed with cancer when she was in high school. Like Mandly, Irwin believed that what she had to say was more important than any nerves or discomfort she might feel at sharing her story.

“I spoke anyway because I know how important it is to provide those affected by cancer with support, and speaking was a way for me to show how important the role of support is in providing hope,” she said.

Irwin was able to see this hope concretely in the opening laps of Relay for Life. Survivors of cancer traditionally walk the first lap before being joined by the caregivers of cancer patients and finally all Relay participants.

“One of my best friends walked in the survivor lap, and I was so proud of her,”  Irwin said. “Then seeing all the teams literally filling the track as everyone walked around was amazing. There were so many people joining together and walking, and it was a great feeling to be a part of that.”

Another moving part of the event was the Luminaria ceremony.  During this time, bags decorated with the names of loved ones who are fighting cancer or who have lost the battle against cancer were lit up around the traffic circle. The names on the bags were then read off one by one as all participants walked in quiet solidarity.

During this time, Mandly noticed one person in particular.  “One girl picked up her Luminaria bag for the walk and carried it around the circle, walking with who ever she lost,” he said. “[It] touched me and made the event so worthwhile.”

Throughout the 12-hour event, CAC also scheduled entertainment to keep up morale and ensure that everyone had a fun time while fighting for an important cause.  This year, performances included the fire spinning group A Different Spin, and the many Fairfield groups including Remixx, Performing for Change, the Bensonians, the Sound, and Ipso Facto.

Just as in previous years, the 2011 Fairfield University Relay for Life was a big success. Michelle Brennan ’11, the third committee chair, believes this is a huge credit to the students of the University.

Brennan said, “It really is breathtaking tosee hundreds of students walking the track, fighting against cancer. That really speaks to the values and characters of students at Fairfield.  While the committee organizes the event, it’s the students that participate that make Relay for Life what it is.”

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