Walking laps, finding a cure

Meghan Gauriloff

Students walk laps on the track behind Deweese Health Center Saturday evening during Relay for Life in rememberance of those who lost their battle with cancer. ALLIEY BENDER | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Whether they were survivors themselves or those who had lost a loved one to the disease, people of all ages came together to honor and support the fight against cancer in the carnival atmosphere of the Fourth Annual Kent State University Relay for Life.

Around 1,500 volunteers took turns running, jogging or walking from 10 a.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday.

All funds collected from the 24-hour walk at the Liquid Crystal/Small Group Field directly benefits the American Cancer Society, which will use the money for cancer research and support groups.

This year, the cancer awareness event raised $75,527, topping last year’s mark by more than $1,000. This year’s goal is to raise $86,000, and donations will still be collected until Aug. 15 to meet that goal, said Andrea Bellas, American Cancer Society income development coordinator.

“I think it went fabulous,” she said. “They’re already above where they finished last year, and they had a good time doing it.”

The theme of this year’s Relay for Life was games, and more than 60 teams had game-themed tents lining the track. Each tent also had on-site fundraising to collect more money for the American Cancer Society.

The team that raised the most money overall was A Solid Squad, whose theme was the Price is Right, by raising $8,760.

The honorary survivor recognized at this year’s Relay for Life was Rachael Mendenhall, sophomore fashion merchandising major, who has been in remission for 11 months.

“I was really excited and touched that they thought of me to be the honorary survivor,” she said. “I was very honored to be asked because there are so many others that have been survivors for so much longer than me.”

Two weeks after graduating from high school, Mendenhall found out she had lymphoblastic lymphoma. She said she was planning to attend Kent State but was forced to postpone college for one year to undergo treatments.

This year was her second year to participate in Relay for Life, and she raised more than $1,000. Her family and friends also came to support her and the cause.

“It’s just amazing to me that so many people are taking the time and effort to come out and help,” Mendenhall said. “To walk the survivor lap and to see everyone clapping, it was really nice to see everyone supporting us. It’s such an amazing feeling to know I’m a survivor.”

Some participants had lost loved ones to cancer and were showing support for those affected by the disease.

Freshman nutrition major Michael Bird lost his grandfather last summer to cancer and formed a team this year for Relay for Life with friends and family to support those currently affected by the disease. Team DiPaola was named in dedication of his grandfather, and the theme of the group was Tetris.

“There’s so many people out there with cancer, and it’s not discussed very openly,” he said. “It’s not a top priority for a lot of people, and it should be.”

Another team member, freshman education major Lindsey Johnson, not only believes Relay for Life is a good cause, but she said it also helps those who have lost a loved one.

“It’s also a support system,” Johnson said. “It’s helpful for those mourning when they see all of these people supporting and caring about the cause.”

The team wore costumes resembling Tetris units, and they won the award for Best Team Spirit.

Jessica Cahoon, graduate assistant for athletic communications and co-chair of Kent State’s Relay for Life, said the event was a success.

“I thought it was terrific just to see everyone out playing games and enjoying themselves and also having all the new and old volunteers supporting relay,” she said.

Cahoon won the Top Fundraiser Award by raising more than $6,000 for her team, A Solid Squad. Her focus to raise $7,000 stemmed from losing two close friends to cancer in the past year, who she honored in the opening ceremony.

“There were some people who passed away this year, and their memories were honored in a wonderful way,” Cahoon said. “I thought everything was beautiful this year. … The opening ceremony was beautiful, and the Luminaria Ceremony was beautiful.”

Luminarias were purchased to remember those who died from cancer and to honor those currently battling the disease. They were placed and lit around the track.

“We had more luminarias than ever before, and seeing the track lit up that way was wonderful,” she said. “It was the most moving ceremony.”

Cahoon said while relay continues to grow each year, this year’s efforts were the best yet.

“At one point or another your life will be touched by cancer. and even if it’s not, there are people out there who need our help,” Cahoon said. “And I believe with the money we raise here for research and support, we can save people from dying from this non-discriminatory disease, and together we can find a cure.”

For more information about Relay for Life and where to donate money, visit www.cancer.org.

Contact social services reporter Meghan Gauriloff at [email protected].