NU students unite to walk for cancer patients
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – Relay for Life is a fun and unifying event that operates through the American Cancer Society and takes place all over the world. Run by volunteers who aim to raise awareness of cancer and bring communities together, the relay honors those who are affected by the disease and helps give them the strength to continue the fight.
Due to hardworking and dedicated students, Niagara University now has its own Relay for Life, which is scheduled to take place on Fri. April 7 from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the Kiernan Recreation Center.
Last year, Niagara’s Relay was organized by Olivia Wood and Korinne Thorne, student athletes and aspiring medical professionals. One day, these two friends realized that Niagara was missing something that they both felt could change the campus community for the better. They had heard about numerous relays taking place at colleges and universities in the Buffalo area and wanted to bring the event to their school.
“It used to exist here, about ten years ago, but it stopped,” Wood explained. “We saw the opportunity to make it happen again. So we did.”
The event was a success, with about 300 people in attendance.
“We were very surprised,” Wood stated. “We did not expect that amount of interest. So we’re trying to keep it going. This year, we’ve been allotted for 500. We’ve actually had to limit the amount of people based on the safety requirements of Kiernan.”
This year’s Relay has been organized by a committee of students with Wood and Thorne as co-presidents. They meet once a month in the fall and twice a month in the spring. In addition to preparing for the Relay, the committee holds smaller events on campus throughout the year in order to raise funds and gain publicity.
“Last month we did a birthday cake and bingo event,” Wood stated. “We’ve made dinner at the Hope Lodge in Buffalo. We have a dodgeball tournament this month. One of our biggest focuses is getting our campus involved and raising donations. It’s a year-long process, but it pays off so well.”
The committee of students is relatively small, but other organizations at Niagara have shown their support. Wood and Thorne also use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts to spread news about the Relay.
“Our planning committee consists of about 25 people,” Thorne explained. “But it goes beyond that. We could not do this without the help of administration, NUSGA and Campus Activities.”
“Social media helps us reach students on a broader scale,” Wood added. “But a lot of it is word of mouth. We have a bunch of different majors and age groups on our committee and they expand it to people they know. We have some in the dorms and some are RAs. We try to reach everyone we can.”
Wood also emphasized the importance of clarifying the details of the event to students.
“I think a lot of people don’t know much about it and are scared to participate. A lot of people think that Relay is a running event or that it’s primarily for athletes. It’s not. Walking is encouraged, and we have so many more fun competitions going on. Relay offers games, food and music. This year we’ll have Zumba, yoga and salsa dancing. Our theme is ‘Fiesta’. It’s a fun night for a great cause.”
In addition to student participants, cancer survivors are also welcome at the event, where they are celebrated for bravery. After the Opening Ceremony, there is a survivor lap, in which people who are currently battling the disease walk. After the survivors take their lap, team members take turns walking, which continues throughout the night, symbolizing the fact that cancer never sleeps.
One of the most moving parts of the Relay for Life is the lighting of the Luminarias, which are decorated with names of loved ones and messages of hope and love.
“Our Luminaria Ceremony last year was so emotional,” Wood stated. “It really makes a difference because it shows how everybody is doing this event for someone else. So it’s truly rewarding to have that time to reflect on those individuals and the importance of their own personal fight.”
The Relay for Life has proved to be one of the most unifying events on campus, bringing friends closer together and showing people they are never alone.
“There were so many students that came who had a relative or close friend with cancer,” Thorne explained. “You could learn so much about people and what they were secretly going through. People were able to look towards each other for support instead of suffering alone. If one person in a group of friends has a connection to cancer, whether it’s a parent, a grandparent, themselves, or whatever it looks like, there’s such a deeper connection within that friend group.”
“Finding out more about people’s personal experiences was definitely inspiring,” Wood added. “They would offer up their stories. You knew these people, you were friends with them, and you had no idea this could happen to them. It was so touching.”
The Relay for Life returns this year with many fun activities, but the supportive and courageous atmosphere will remain.
“With all the excitement and the games, we can’t forget that there’s a deeper component, the idea that cancer never sleeps,” Thorne stated. “There’s a deeper meaning to the event and I think that’s really sensed and felt among the people who attend, and it makes it so much more special.”
In order to get involved with the Relay for Life, whether it be learning more about it, starting or joining a team, or making a donation, students can visit the event’s website at www.relayforlife.org/niagarauniversityny.
Photo by Andrew Emmons