by Julia Ernst
When junior Heather Fischler started planning Rider’s Relay for Life, held this past weekend in the Student Recreation Center (SRC), she wanted to create a spring event that would be the equivalent of fall’s Midnight MAACness.
“My goal was to be as a big as MAACness,” Fischler said. “I can proudly say now that Relay will be the MAACness of the spring.”
Relay for Life is an overnight cancer fundraiser that was first held in 1986, created by a Washington colorectal surgeon.
Relay participants raise money to be donated to the American Cancer Society (ACS) and gather for one full night, staying up all night, walking a track lit up by candles to honor and remember people whose lives have been impacted by cancer.
This year was the first year that Rider hosted the event, Fischler said. The theme was “The Wonderful World of Rider,” a play on the Disney World slogan.
“We wanted a theme that would show the spirit and enthusiasm we have for Rider,” Fischler said.
According to the ACS Web site, the monetary goal for Relay is usually $100 per person on the team, but participating organizations and institutions can set their own monetary target. Rider’s original goal was $25,000 — which it ended up doubling by the time the event was over.
“We’re up to $53,000 and counting,” Fischler said. “It was more than I ever expected of Rider.”
The university’s total surpassed that of larger New Jersey schools such as Rutgers and The College of New Jersey, according to the organizers. Rider is now a contender to become one of the top new Relays on the East Coast.
“Most colleges who do Relay have a cancer organization on their campus,” Fischler said. “We don’t. People came together in groups they already had. We brought residents, Greeks and commuters together. There are so many people on this campus who have or have had cancer, and so many people who didn’t win the fight. Everybody at Rider has been touched by cancer” in some way.
Fischler and Megan Ptaszenski, a junior who played a large role in planning the event with Fischler, explained that each team came up with a theme for themselves, from “Under the Sea,” for the Student Education Assocation, “The Suite Life,” which was a group of students who live in Lincoln Hall, to “Figment of Imagination,” a team that the Psychology group put together.
For Fischler, her motivation for bringing Relay to Rider was deeply personal.
“If it wasn’t for events like Relay for Life, I wouldn’t have my two roommates here with me, because both of their fathers have battled cancer,” said Fischler, who lives with Ptaszenski and Shannon Baals, another junior, who also helped plan Rider’s Relay.
“Before I decided to help out with this, my dad wouldn’t really talk to me” about his battle with cancer, Ptaszenski said. “But once he saw how passionate I was, he opened up and told me more about it.”
The event was sponsored by the Lawrenceville SGA, of which Fischler is the event chair, and included over 700 participants — students from both the Lawrenceville and Westminster campuses and members from the surrounding Lawrenceville and Princeton communities.
Ptaszenski said it was amazing how fast Relay went, from the early planning stages to the actual event, and what a success it was.
“Back in September, when we started having meetings, we would look at each other and just wonder, ‘How are we going to do this?’” Ptaszenski said. But now that the event is over, she added, “It is an amazing feeling. I’m getting chills from talking about it.”
Rider students who attended the event all had their own experiences at the event.
“I’ve had a loss from cancer,” junior Meghan Montague said, adding that her brother passed away from the disease. “I wanted to support others who have suffered a loss from cancer and do whatever I could to help the cause. It was an awesome experience. It wasn’t what I was expecting — I thought I’d be able to sleep — but I ended up staying up all night.”
Junior Alyssa Brown shared a different experience from that of Montague’s.
“I only ended up staying part of the night, because my team captain left,” Brown said. “She told another teammate that she didn’t feel like staying the whole night, and I was also sick. I had a good time, but I think it would have been better if I had a full team that worked together.”
Ptasenski said that it was clear to see, in the reactions of people who walked around the track in the SRC that night, how much of an impact Relay for Life had on the campus.
People picked up paper lunch bags that had candles in them to represent survivors and those lost to cancer. They would “realize how many people had been affected,” Ptasenski said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Though Fischler had to put a great deal of her own effort into pulling off the event, she added that she wants to thank the students and organizations of Rider who helped make the first ever Rider Relay such a success.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done here,” Fischler said. “It took every resource I have here to pull this off. Without everyone spreading the word and getting people there, it would not have been done.”
Rider students still interested in donating to the ACS can do so through Aug. 31, when the next cycle for Relay for Life begins. Visit the ACS Web site at http://www.cancer.org/docroot/home/index.asp for more information.