Pitt extends Relay for Life, raises awareness


For the fourth straight year, Emily Nevins spent a Saturday — and now this year, her Sunday as well — walking in the name of fighting cancer.

Relay for Life, an annual event that raises donations for the American Cancer Society, featured teams walking around a makeshift track on the pavement around the Cathedral of Learning lawn for 24 hours beginning at noon Saturday. The event ended early with closing ceremonies around 10:30 a.m. Sunday because of inclement weather.

Colleges Against Cancer, a nationwide organization of volunteers committed to eliminating cancer, worked with the American Cancer Society to do most of the setup for the Relay. Mia Pauley, Colleges Against Cancer Relay co-chair, said the planning process began during the fall semester.The Gamma Sigma Sigma service sorority team fundraised the largest amount for the event.

“Everyone was really excited,” said Nevins, who participated in her fourth Relay for Life this year as the captain of Gamma Sigma Sigma team. “Most girls came for a few hour shifts at a time, but a lot of us wanted to stay longer than just our shifts. At least one of us was walking the track for the full 24 hours.”

Last year’s relay raised about $80,000, and Kristen Nuss, a member of the American Cancer Society, said that this year the organizers aimed for $87,000 in donations. The final amount of money raised will not be known until later this week.

According to the Relay for Life website’s recent totals, as of noon yesterday, Nevins and her Gamma Sigma Sigma team have raised more than $9,500 thus far. Nevins has personally raised more than $2,500. 

The race is broken down into a series of laps that commemorate various groups of people affected by cancer.

The first lap of Relay for Life is known as the Survivors Lap, during which all present cancer survivors kicked off the event and walked to the cheers and encouragement of the teams lining the track. After the Survivors Lap, the Caregivers Lap recognized those who have given care to cancer patients, followed by the Opening Lap, during which all participating teams began the 24-hour team walk.

Nevins, a senior majoring in nursing, called it “a tiring, but meaningful 24 hours.”

“With 48 members, we’re definitely one of the bigger teams, but we’re all committed to fundraising for the cause,” she said.

In past years, Pitt’s Relay for Life lasted 12 hours, but this is the first year that the relay extended into Sunday.

Although this year’s relay ended slightly early because of inclement weather, Rebecca Callodonato, the president of Colleges Against Cancer, said it did not take away from the great atmosphere around the track.

“This was our first year trying to go for 24 hours, and it usually starts earlier in the day than noon,” Callodonato, a senior majoring in biological sciences, said. “With the bad weather, everyone was pretty much frozen and purple by 6 or 7 a.m., so we didn’t want to get everyone sick and take away from the awesome mentality of the event.”

Nuss said the almost-24-hour relay kept pace with other major universities that have held the event for the same amount of time. Nuss added that many teams also hosted activities, such as water pong tournaments, cornhole games and frisbee games, throughout the night to keep participants entertained.

Many participants also played music and various games to occupy their time.

Groups and clubs set up tents around the track to stay warm, and they also had tables lining the entire track. Organizations sold hot chocolate, keychains, sandwiches from Jimmy Johns   — a sandwich chain restaurant — and other snacks.

One such group was the Triangle Fraternity, whose members ran around shooting marshmallows at each other with marshmallow guns. Several groups set up games of “bra pong,” in which participants had to throw ping pong balls into bras mounted on a board for prizes.

Pitt Program Council also held a raffle for tickets in the VIP section to see Timeflies, a rap and techno group scheduled to play at this year’s Bigelow Bash. 

Pauley said she was most pleased with the creativity and cooperation between teams this year. 

“People walked around the track with hula hoops, others were wearing flamingo costumes and gorilla costumes,” Pauley, a sophomore premed student, said. “We did Zumba and karaoke later in the night. This year was notable for interaction between the teams. There was a lot more mingling and cooperative fundraising.”

The planning process was also a collaborative effort. 

“Other organizations get involved by forming a team and fundraising,” she said. “All of the planning is from our committees and our chairs. In the fall, we mostly focused on getting new people familiar with Relay in general and hosting some other fundraisers, like basketball or soccer tournaments, to fundraise and get our name out there.”

The Exercise Science Organization and Phi Sigma Rho rounded out the top three groups in terms of donations. Top individual fundraisers and other top groups in terms of fundraising were announced at the closing ceremonies Sunday.

“The biggest fundraiser we’ve done is a relay letter-writing campaign,” Nevins said. “We write heartfelt letters about the cause to send to friends and family for donations, but also to get their support for the people actually fighting cancer.”

Project Sunshine, a club that works with child patients in children’s medical facilities, kept it simple, selling cookies and bracelets to raise money along the track Saturday. Club member Julie Mandel said the club’s goal reflects the purpose of Relay for Life, so club members wanted to come and lend support.

“We have a big club of about 100 active volunteers throughout the year, so some of us wanted to come out and support however we could,” Mandel, a sophomore pharmacy student, said.

Mandel’s group had six people rotating in four-hour shifts for the 24-hour relay, unlike some other groups and clubs with many more representatives.

Theta Tau, an engineering fraternity, sold keychains, kabobs and virgin pina coladas. Fraternity member Avery Jackson said the food had been the table’s selling point to attract people.

“Some people just came by and bought some kabobs,” Jackson, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said. “It [needed] to warm up a little bit for the pina coladas, but they liked the kabobs.”

The relay continued into the night, when the event turned more somber with the Luminaria Ceremony. People lit candles to place inside personalized bags that lined the track to honor those affected by cancer.

Relay for Life then closed with the Fight Back Ceremony. The relayers took a final lap and pledged to continue to spread awareness of cancer research and prevention.

Nuss said this lap echoes the theme of the whole 24-hour event.

“We consider the relay to be like the Grand Canyon — you have to see it to appreciate everything it offers,” she said.