Relay for Life

On the weekend of May 23-24, Dougherty students will finally not be staying in to study.

Instead, they will be staying up for 24 hours for the second Relay for Life, hosted by the Dougherty Valley American Cancer Society club as they strive to raise awareness for cancer and tell inspiring stories of cancer fighters and survivors.

Relay for Life, known as Relay or RFL for short, is an event organized “for students and people in the community to come together to join the fight against cancer,” according to junior Nicole Chan, co-vice president of the ACS club.

The club itself, a small chapter of the nationwide non-profit organization American Cancer Society, and one of the largest clubs on campus, is well-known solely for this event.

Surprisingly, Relay was launched just last year, when current co-president senior Neal Sanghvi had the ambition of starting the event at Dougherty in honor of his aunt, who passed away due to cancer.

“I think it started a great tradition of giving back at Dougherty, something people can look forward to at the end of the year,” he said. “It’s fun and it’s for a good cause and what could be better?”

Sanghvi demonstrated his determination for the event long before it was created — first, he had to approve it with administrators.

“An overnight co-ed event with a lot of ‘active’ high school [students] is not easy to approve,” he admitted. “But I showed them my passion for all of this and even wrote an agreement and contract myself … finally, after [four] months of fighting, they agreed.”

With the amount of people that showed up, the first year of Relay, affectionately termed the “baby Relay,” was a definite success. Dougherty’s event won a myriad of banners announcing nationwide-level achievements, such as the Award of Excellence, Top Teams, Top Survivors and Top Donations Raised for a Baby Relay.

Since then, the impact of last year’s event has thoroughly influenced a large amount of students to join both the club and this year’s event. Sophomores Shachi Champaneri and Dhruv Sagar both agreed with the fact that the enthusiasm of many of their friends have, in turn, interested them in participating.

“Relay for Life is such an incredible event,” Champaneri said. “They really spread awareness about cancer and [its] struggles.”

Participants create teams of eight to 15 people to fundraise at the event, share the same campsite planted along the track and take turns walking for all of 24 hours. Relay also boasts a variety of fun and games, such as themed spirit laps, a dance party, student-run dance performances, midnight musical chairs and even a water balloon fight.

With these major attractions of last year and the attention the event is receiving, Chan is confident Relay will be “exponentially larger this year.”

“It was difficult to plan something that we personally had never experienced, but it was incredibly successful,” Chan said of the first Relay. “I think we can do so much more than we did last year, especially now that we know what we’re capable of as a school.”

With a large growth of participants comes an even larger sum of money from fundraising, one of the main priorities of the event. Each person is required to raise at least $100 to stay the night, and the goal of $1,000 per team is encouraged. Fundraising during the event itself occurs in a variety of forms, since each individual team is required to create a fundraising idea.

A recognized team successful in their fundraising last year, STRIVE, set up a face-painting booth that helped them raise over $100, according to former team member and current historian of the ACS club, junior Diane Zhao.

“What’s so unique about STRIVE is each member’s commitment. Every person [who] signed up raised $100 or more,” she added. “We did that by going door to door, just asking for donations, as well as emailing relatives and asking parents’ co-workers.”

The spirit and determination of fundraising for Relay, in which all proceeds go directly to the American Cancer Society, allowed ACS to raise a total of over $27,000 from the event last year.

Yet raising money and the chance to spend an all-nighter with friends are just mere aspects of the true power and purpose of the event — to spread awareness about cancer, honor the survivors, caregivers and those who have passed away and inspire participants to join in the fight against the deadly disease.

“We’re united under the motto, ‘Cancer never sleeps, so why should we?’” co-vice president of the club, senior Timmu Yi, explained. “Our profits go directly towards providing for future cancer research and the current treatments of victims who are unable to afford the costly treatments.”

Cancer survivor guests, such as last year’s Breezy Bochenek and Mr. Spain,  share their stories during the event. A special lap, named the “Survivors Lap” by the official American Cancer Society website, is one of the most important laps conducted around the track.

The most empowering and well-known activity during Relay for Life, however, is the Luminaria ceremony, according to Chan. An entire committee is dedicated solely to the organization of Luminaria, in which bags containing candles or other sources of light are lit on the bleachers and arranged into words such as HOPE during the bleak midnight hours.

“Personally, my eyes have been opened to see what Relay for Life can actually do to end cancer,” Chan said. “[When] we walked a silent lap to honor those who had passed away due to this disease, it finally hit me that we were making a difference. We were leaving a mark on the world by spending 24 hours on our school’s track. And I think that’s an amazing thing to do.”

The effort behind the scenes of Relay is compiled through countless hours from committee heads, committee members and mostly the club officers themselves. Chan recalled a club officer meeting at Starbucks Coffee that lasted for over four hours. Yi confirmed a constantly active chat conversation on Facebook and further planning of the event any time available in or outside of school, during weekends and over breaks.

Yet the officers can easily agree that every hour dedicated towards Relay for Life last year was well worth it.

“The participation during the event was amazing,” Zhao said. “It was a lot of fun for every participant. I think every single person put in a lot of effort to make the event the best that it could be last year. Individuals are passionate and driven, which definitely is the reason for our success.”

Whether a student participates because of personal struggles with cancer or simply because his or her friends are participating for the excitement, Relay offers inspiration and a powerful experience to all that attend.