Racing for the Cure- Relay for Life

Luminaria+bags+line+the+track+in+honor+of+those+affected+by+cancer.

Photo by U.S. Navy

Luminaria bags line the track in honor of those affected by cancer.

Around the world, 4 million people challenge themselves each year to walk through the night in their local Relay for Life event. After hours of determination and teamwork, only one loser emerges: cancer.

Relay for Life is a walking fundraiser to fight against cancer, and is symbolic of the journey of a diagnosed patient. The relay is done throughout the night, representing how cancer never sleeps. Various laps such as the Survivor Lap, the Caregiver Lap and the Luminaria Ceremony recognize those who have survived cancer, those who help fight cancer, and those who have passed or are still fighting.

This year, BVN will join the other Blue Valley schools by forming the North Relay For Life chapter. As the groundwork is laid, students and faculty are forming high expectations for the contribution our school makes towards defeating cancer.

Why Mustangs should get involved

English teacher Shelly Weir has been informing her students of the Relay for Life program and how they can get involved. After participating in Relay for Life once, Weir believes there is an inherent beauty in participating and contributing to the fight against cancer.

“I participated in 2004. It was in the spring, on the Osawatomie High School track–that’s where my mother-in-law lives, and it was Team Weir and it was for her specifically. It had a somber tone because you saw hundreds of people walking around with the names of the people that they were walking for, in tribute of those they had loved and lost to cancer or those they knew was battling cancer. It’s a touching moment that while it is one person in my family, there were thousands upon thousands who are fighting the good fight,” Weir said.

Weir’s family motivates her to participate in Relay for Life and contribute to making a  difference for those with cancer.

“Cancer has touched the life of my family; my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law have both had breast cancer,” Weir said. “I have known people who had cancer and it’s a huge struggle. It’s something I believe has touched all of our lives and I do believe in raising money for the research. It would be absolutely amazing to cure, rid our world of [cancer]. It would truly be a feat.”

Weir wants students to get involved with Relay for Life so that they can support the effort against cancer and spread the message of community and support.

“Why I challenged my students to form a team is specifically because I believe in charity and giving back to others,” Weir said. “I don’t know anyone who has been unscathed by this illness and this is a small, small way to help others. In literature we teach finding that beautiful moment in the ugliness in life and this is that exact moment,” Weir said.

The Coordinator’s Perspective

Seniors Vijay Ramasamy and Claire Eggleston, co-Event Chairs of the BVN Relay for Life program, have been working in conjunction with the administration and Relay for Life coordinators to bring the relay to North.

“I have been setting up meetings with the administration and with Mrs. Glass who works for the American Cancer Society [to form our chapter]. We have been working on publicity, dates and coordinating with other schools,” Ramasamy said.

Ramasamy became interested in Relay for Life because of the impact cancer had on his family. His goal is for other students to attend the first event, raise money, and support those with cancer.

“Everyone knows someone that has been affected by cancer. I got involved because my family has been affected by cancer and my dad has participated in Relay for Life for a long time,” Ramasamy said. “Relay for Life [in the Blue Valley district] raised over $140,000 last year. I want kids to get together to make teams and participate because [Blue Valley] Northwest only had 15 kids participate. We want to have many kids join and put our best foot forward.”

Eggleston has a goal for the Blue Valley district to raise more money than was raised last year because BVN is now participating in the relay.

“My goal for Relay for Life is getting a lot of people from our school [to participate]. Starting small and working up the years is our goal. Last year we raised $140,000 and our goal is to go above that,” Eggleston said.

Kala Glass, Staff Partner for the Relay for Life program, has worked closely with students at North and in the Blue Valley district to solve logistical problems and get students involved in relay. For the first year of Relay at North, Glass hopes to see that students understand the impact of Relay for Life not only on the individual, but also on the community.

“Our goal for this year is to get the school involved. I want to get as many people signed up and on teams to spread the message of the American Cancer Society and how we are helping people in the KC metro area by funds from Relay for Life,” Glass said.

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Teams congregate during the Blue Valley Relay for Life event. Photo from bluevalleyk12schools.org

The money produced from the Relay for Life event will go towards not only cancer research, but also cancer-related projects around the community.

“[The money] goes to the American Cancer Society. What that goes to is the Hope Lodge, where cancer patients can stay overnight after they went to the hospital. [The Hope Lodge also] sets up driving schedules for patients so they can go back and forth to the hospital to get treatment,” Eggleston said. “[The American Cancer Society] also has a hotline number where anyone can call anytime of the day to have their questions answered or if they need emotional support. [The Look Good Feel Better Program] was also created to boost the confidence [of patients].”

For BVN’s chapter to meet its goals, Glass believes that involvement in raising money and participating is essential.

“[The chapter] has to be passionate,” Glass said. “Relay is put together by people passionate to finish the fight. Since Relay is open to everyone, you don’t have to be a doctor or go into the sciences to make a difference. You can do you part right here at Blue Valley North.”

Success of other Relay for Life chapters around the district has not only revealed the potential challenges Ramasamy and Eggleston will have to overcome, but also how fulfilling the event is as a whole.

“[Relay for Life is an] extremely big endeavor. For example, at Blue Valley [High], Arjun [Prakash, Chair of the BVHS Relay Chapter] has about 600 kids who sign up each year. We can also see that its a fun and rewarding opportunity for everyone involved,” Ramasamy said. “Kids at other schools say it’s the most fun thing they have done all year and they love being a part of it. Get together, make teams, and raise some money for a good cause.”

Learning from the experienced

Blue Valley High Senior Arjun Prakash has the responsibility of being head chair of the largest Relay chapter in the district. To grow to such a large size, Prakash’s Relay chapter took advantage of advisory time to inform students.

“To grow from a medium to a large size, we used our schools TV: Tiger TV,” Prakash said. “During advisory, we have Tiger TV every three weeks and we have segments on that. Also, we went to freshman advisory classes because for us, more than getting sophomores, juniors and seniors involved, it’s usually more about getting the message out to freshmen to join.”

Students at Blue Valley High have many opportunities to get involved with Relay beyond just participating in the event.

“Relay for Life [at BVH] is a separate entity not associated with student council or Kay club, so we have a Relay for Life committee comprised of 15 to 20 students who organize the event. We also have team captains who organize 5-15 kids to participate. Aside from being a participant you can be involved by being a captain, by being on a committee or by being a chair,” Prakash said.

Prakash offers advice to the North Relay chapter to not see low initial membership as a sign of weakness, and to strictly uphold deadlines for participants.

“Make sure that even if it’s a small group of people trying to be a part of Relay, don’t get discouraged by that. It takes years to get momentum in the program,” Prakash said. “Also make sure that you are stringent with deadlines, especially when it comes to fundraising. People get lax with deadlines and that causes issues. Beyond that, try to spread the actual message because as much it is a fun event, you have to realize that it’s for raising money and you have to try to get people involved.”

Overall, Prakash hopes that our district’s Relay stays in the top 10 nationwide, raises more money than it did last year, obtain the 5 star district chapter certification (awarded to chapters with high membership from participants and cancer survivors, etc.) and “see more North students in the upcoming years.”