Dedication, drive and determination – three words used to describe the students and community members who participated in this year’s Relay for Life at Central Michigan University.
This year’s event, held in the Indoor Athletic Complex, raised $75,904. Lacey Johnson, the co-chair of Colleges Against Cancer, said they were still counting all the change they had as well.
“We had to carry the change out on a rolling cart,” the Goodrich senior said. “That will probably add a couple hundred dollars to the number. We surpassed our goal, which is awesome.”
More than 1,000 people participated in this year’s event, compared to the 800 last year. Fifty survivors came to the IAC and 20 more joined in virtually. Johnson said she was impressed with how many people came to participate by walking, jogging or playing the games for fundraisers throughout the 24-hour event.
“We like people to stay the whole time, but they don’t have to,” she said. “We had 83 teams participate and raise money. It was awesome.”
Johnson said they set the goals high because CAC wanted to keep growing Relay for Life on CMU’s campus.
One of the challenges Relay for Life faced in 2013 was Greek Week conflicting with the time slots. Johnson said some teams couldn’t participate last year because they were participating in other events for Greek life.
This year was special for Johnson because it’s the 10th year since her mother died from ovarian cancer. She said it was incredible to be able to put together and lead an event so near to her heart.
“You can’t put it into words how happy you are,” Johnson said. “We’re affecting so many people, and we’re just one campus. The feelings you get from Relay are indescribable.”
Johnson said she enjoyed getting to know so many more people whose lives are affected by cancer. She said Relay for Life is like building a family within 24 hours.
“It’s a touching, safe place that everyone knows what you’re going through or have been through,” Johnson said. “You’re not alone in it. You’re not the only one who’s felt that way. That’s the part where everyone else affects everyone else.”
Participating on multiple levels
Other CAC committee members spent their 24 hours getting to know the caregivers, survivors and friends of people affected by cancer. Iron Mountain junior Braden Riis said he enjoyed meeting people walking during Relay because everyone had their own story.
“It’s amazing the stories you hear at Relay,” he said. “The caregivers, the survivors – it was interesting. (Cancer) is a strong, driving force. It’s interesting to see everyone’s reason to participate.”
Riis has been affected by cancer in many ways. One of his grandmothers died from cancer, and another is a survivor. Riis said his roommate is also a survivor, giving him a new perspective on life.
“At the beginning of the year, (my roommate) said ever since he was diagnosed with cancer, he looks at life differently,” Riis said. “It’s kind of a reality shock. It really drove me to get involved in Relay.”
Riis has participated in Relay for Life events since high school, but said this was his first year on the committee. As a committee member, he filled in as a judge for the Disney character costume contest at this year’s event.
Participants in the contest were judged on their talent, costume and reason for why they relay. The top three then competed to raise the most money in 10 minutes.
“The winner was a survivor who danced with her dog,” Riis said. “The two others pooled their money so she could win. It shows you the kind of community we have. We’re raising money to help save lives.”
A sense of community
Mike Bryant has kept coming back to Relay for Life because of the sense of community he gets in the short period of time spent walking and participating in events.
There for 20 of the 24-hour event, Bryant said he had a lot of fun meeting new people and hearing their stories.
“You feel like you’re not alone,” the senior from Hartland said. “Hearing the survivors’ stories and how some caretakers remember their loved ones, knowing you’re a part of something so big that will help in the long run, we’re just one step closer to cancer not being a problem anymore.”
Bryant was a member of the five-person team, Team Edna’s Hooters.
The team’s namesake was team leader Heather Brownlee’s grandmother, Edna, who had breast cancer. The team met its personal fundraising goal of $1,000 by hosting a root beer pong tournament.
“Rob Browlee, Heather’s brother, built the table for us,” Bryant said. “It was pink with breast cancer ribbons on either end. We sold root beer cans for $1 and let people play. I was kind of surprised. People were coming to play at three in the morning.”
CAC hopes to continue to grow Relay for Life on CMU’s campus, getting more student and community participants. Johnson said she hopes to get the word out about the annual free event through Facebook and other forms of social media in the coming years.
“It’s one of the more open events on campus,” she said. “Next year could be an $80,000 relay. We do all these things because we want to get the word out. The more we share, the quicker we can put cancer in the history books.”