Yale Relay for Life takes off this weekend

This weekend, approximately 700 Yale students will demonstrate their endurance and commitment when they set off on an 18-hour-long walk — around the Yale track.

Relay for Life, a fund-raising event organized by the American Cancer Society and held at thousands of sites around the nation, will kick off its first year at Yale with events beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday. Yale organizers have already raised over $100,000 to fight cancer and hope to have more than 700 student participants this weekend at the athletic fields. Yale has raised the largest amount of money among some 50 colleges hosting the event nationwide, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society.

Founded 20 years ago by Dr. Gordy Klatt, the Relay for Life has since become the signature activity of the American Cancer Society, which says it is the world’s largest fund-raising event. Volunteers nationwide find sponsors, form teams and then spend the better part of a day walking laps in local communities to raise money for cancer research, treatment and awareness.

Yale relay organizer Caroline Edsall ’06 said each of Yale’s 62 teams will be responsible for keeping at least one team member on the track at all times for the 18-hour duration of the event. Relay organizers said entertainment is planned to encourage walkers to stay at the track after their shifts are over. In addition, some teams may bring tents so that walkers can sleep in their off-hours.

Organizers said there will be several local bands performing at the event.

“We will have a full stage on one end of the track,” relay organizer Stephanie Smith ’07 said. “Even at 3 a.m. we will have live music up there.”

Edsall said karaoke and raffles will also help keep participants entertained. She said she was amazed at students’ enthusiastic response to the relay.

“I’m really blown away,” she said. “We were expecting 15 to 20 teams and $20,000. Instead, we have 62 teams and over $100,000.”

Edsall said Yale’s top rank among colleges in fund-raising is all the more impressive because the second-ranked school, Washington University in St. Louis, has been hosting the relay for several years. The ease of online donation with credit cards has helped the relay in recent years, Edsall said. Every walker who signs up receives his or her own donation page on the relay site. Edsall alone has raised over $11,000 for the Yale relay this year.

Edsall said the relay would also honor victims and survivors of cancer.

“We open up the relay with a survivor lap,” she said, in which cancer survivors alone complete a lap around the track while cheered by the other walkers.

Edsall said the relay’s traditional Luminaria ceremony would commemorate the victims of cancer later in the evening with a trail of illuminated paper bags, each one representing a cancer survivor or victim.

Edsall said personal experience inspired her to bring the relay to Yale.

“My sophomore year, both my grandmother and my best friend were diagnosed with cancer,” Edsall said. “I felt helpless and powerless.”

After contacting the American Cancer Society last summer about a Yale relay, Edsall said she got together with Smith and Simbarashe Marekera ’07 to plan the event.

“We got together at Koffee Too? on the first day of school, and we went from there,” she said.

The three then set up a table at the Freshman Bazaar in August to gauge student support, she said. Smith said her past participation in another relay inspired her to help organize this one.

“Seeing so many people together to support such an important cause is just such a special thing,” she said.

To accommodate relay walkers, free buses to the Yale track will leave every 15 minutes from Payne Whitney Gymnasium until 1 a.m Sunday. The service will then resume at 6 a.m.

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