By Paxton Mclane
On Friday, April 5 Sacred Heart University held its annual Relay for Life to raise money, celebrate survivors of cancer, and remember those lost. However, this year’s Relay was particularly unique compared to the other 11 years the university has been hosting this event.
For the first time in 11 years the school did not partner up with the American Cancer Society (ACS). The SHU committee planned and executed the event entirely themselves. This was not easy for the committee. Senior and Co-President of Relay, Erica Heins said that this year was a challenge, one they were ready to face.
“It was the first Relay that was done without an American Cancer Society representative for us to utilize for any questions or concerns about the planning of the event. I was co-president last year as well, so going from having that contact person to not was a big adjustment,” said Heins. “The committee really had to figure it all out as we went so it was much more rewarding for us to see all of the pieces come together and have all of the participation we had.”
The committee decided that this year’s theme would be a Hawaiian getaway, advertising the event under the name “Re-Lei for Life.” The event included the handing out of Hawaiian leis as well as a volcano rock climbing wall.
Heins shares her position as president of the committee with another senior, Alyssa Pezzella. The two coordinate dozens of students throughout the year to plan and put on this event.
“We work with our committee all year to put on this event. We fund-raise, we advertise, we reach out to the community on campus and surrounding campus for participation. We organize entertainment as well as Sacred Heart staff needed to make sure the event runs smoothly,” said Pezzella. “Most importantly, we spend a lot of time contacting survivors and making sure they will be in attendance for they are the reason we put on this event.”
Over 500 students from organizations across campus, faculty, community members, and survivors attended the event. A record of 16 survivors were in attendance. Heins and Pezzella’s commitment to the event and its longevity leaves it a lot of room to grow.
“There was participation from around 500+ people this year. We had about 16 survivors, which is a much bigger participation than in year’s past. We also had a much larger committee to help us put this event on. Most of the committee is made of freshmen, so it was their first Relay to attend at Sacred Heart. To see them really learning the ropes and incorporating things that they had done at Relays in their hometown was so rewarding,” said Heins.
Relay for Life consists of four events, the opening and closing ceremonies, a survivor/caregiver walk, and the most important, the Luminaria Ceremony. The Luminaria Ceremony is done to honor those who have lost their fight with cancer. All those attending the event light their Luminaria bags and read a poem about remembrance before a silent lap around the event to honor those lost.
A powerful ceremony touched the lives of attendees. Dan Marino, a junior in the fraternity Beta Theta Pi said that it had a particular impact on him.
“The Luminaria ceremony was truly heartwarming because it showed everyone in the room that we are all going through similar experiences when our loved ones are diagnosed with cancer. It demonstrates to those who think they are all alone that we are all here for one another,” said Marino.