By Rachel Stengel
The Orange Iguanas, Animal Crackers, Challah Gators and Gorilla Juiceheads participated in Rider University’s third annual Relay for Life, which took place on Saturday, March 26.
The “Broncs Gone Wild”-themed event drew more than 1,000 participants, and compromised of 60 teams, who banned together to celebrate, remember and fight back against cancer. Rider aimed to claim the title of “Top Performing College Relay in New Jersey” for the third year in a row. As of Thursday, Rider’s event had raised approximately $55,000.
Junior Lindsay Galbraith, event chair for Relay, said she was proud of Rider’s financial success of the event, but believes there are other measures of success besides monetary value.
“Most people would judge an event like this by its monetary success,” she said. “We did awesome, but our Relay is much more than a fundraiser. It is a place for our whole Rider community to come together for a common cause.”
“There is not one single person on this campus who hasn’t heard about cancer in one way or another and Relay is a place where we can all come together to celebrate those who won, remember the loved ones lost and fight back for those still dealing with cancer, as well as those in the future,” Gailbraith said. “Rider Relay achieved all of those goals as well as the fundraising aspect of it. And if I do say so myself, it was a fun-filled night.”
According to the official website, Relay for Life began through the sole efforts of Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Tacoma, Wash., in 1985. He walked around a track for 24 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society. His actions were the precursor to the modern Relay.
Once the teams settled into the SRC, the event began with a speech from cancer survivor R.J. Barkelew. He was a Hero of Hope for this year’s Relay. Barkelew spoke about his personal struggle and victory against cancer. He noted that cancer has had an impact on his life, but he can be proud of his struggle with the disease.
“And the fact that I can always look back on it and be proud of what cancer has done to me I can finally say, ‘Bring it on, life! Let’s see what you’ve got!’” Barkelew said to an applauding crowd.
More than 1.2 million new cases of cancer are reported each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Relay expanded to an international event in 1996. More than 3.5 million people in 5,000 communities throughout the Unites States in conjunction with communities in 20 other countries participate in Relay.
Freshman Melissa Kasiarz of the MomMom Marchers and Aunt Shirley’s Steppers teams explained the significance of her teams names. “The name was in honor of my grandmother, who passed away from cancer and my aunt Shirley, who is in remission. [Relay] was a very fun experience and I would gladly do it again,” she said.
The Heros of Hope, those who have successfully battled cancer, made the initial walk around the track. The crowd celebrated their victories by applauding their lap. The teams then began their trek around the track; each team had at least one person walking throughout the event, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next day. Each team member contributes the required $10, but everyone is encouraged to further fundraise.
Kathy Carter-Romero, director of Publications and Creative Services as well as the team mentor for Rider field hockey, spoke about the extending effects of cancer. It is a disease that does not only affect the one diagnosed with the disease, according to Carter-Romero.
“When somebody’s diagnosed with cancer, you feel very alone,” she said, “like you’re the only one this is happening to and I get constant reminders that’s not the case. When I was diagnosed, it had an impact on my kids, an impact on my husband, an impact on my friends and family,” she said.
Carter-Romero said cancer’s impact on her life was not completely negative. It brought together her family, friends and field hockey teammates.
“We appreciate life more and we appreciate support from each other,” she said. “The only way I get through the day is because I have a team that supports me every day. We continue to live with cancer in our family. We do it because we have great people like all of you.”
Participants were provided with entertainment and snacks during the event. Music was supplied by The Bronc 107.7 radio station. Musical performances included the Rider Vibes and Solfege while the Rider Dance Ensemble and the Dance Team flaunted their dance moves.
The luminaria ceremony was led by senior Amanda Matticks. Bags were placed around the track with messages honoring cancer sufferers. An empty table was set up in significance of the battle cancer patients fight.
“The chair is empty,” explained Matticks. “Many of those who fought the battle with cancer are no longer with us. Rather than mourning their loss, we chose to celebrate their life. These people are unable to be with their loved ones and families now. So let us join together and honor them now and bear witness to their struggle and their memory.”
As the emotionally charged ceremony concluded, participants were encouraged to pass the table in respect of those lost and sign the tablecloth. The ceremony reinforced the gravity of Relay’s purpose and reminded participants of their purpose for joining Relay.
“I relay for my family and hope that no one has to go through what I have seen,” said Galbraith.
Fundraising did not stop after the initial donations. The Bronc 107.7 sold “record bowls” and Hillel raffled off a hair dryer and brush set. All proceeds were donated to Relay for Life. The Miss Rider Relay Drag Queen Pageant drew many donations and much laughter. The gender-bending males raised over $1,200 in only 15 minutes. Donations are still being accepted until August.
“I’m so impressed with all of you who are here and with the amount of money raised again,” Carter-Romero said. “Rider is not that big of a school, but we sure have shown some of the schools in this country that when you really put your mind to it, you can do something really amazing. I would like to thank all of you and my team because that’s how you have cancer — you get through it with your team.”