Student Organizes Oberlin's First Relay For Life
It’s 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning and the Philips Indoor Track and Fieldhouse is not its usual dark, gloomy, silent self. Students are sprawled across the tennis courts in sleeping bags, cozily wrapped up inside tents and positioned awkwardly on pole-vaulting pads. If they aren’t fast asleep, they are walking around the clay-colored track listening to an iPod, juggling a soccerball or reading a book, staggering, eyes half open, from the fatigue of participating in a relay that has lasted nine hours so far.
No matter how tedious it became walking around the same scenery or watching clips of the 1999 teen flick Ten Things I Hate About You playing in the background, students could find solace in knowing they were proudly representing their teams in one of the most important relays ever to grace the United States, let alone Oberlin.
Last Saturday marked the first ever Relay For Life at Oberlin College, an overnight event put on by the American Cancer Society to help raise money to fight cancer. Now a national and international event, Relay For Life has come a long way from its start in 1985 when a Tacoma, Washington native, Dr. Gordy Klatt, raised $27,000 and then ran and walked 83 miles in a 24-hour period.
Relay For Life was brought to Oberlin thanks to one exceptional student’s persistence and desire to realize this landmark event. Junior volleyball and track standout Katahdin [Kate] Cook showed that Oberlin students still can “Change the World.” Cook’s efforts helped round up 175 participants and raised enough money to surpass the goal of $25,000.
Cook’s decision to host the event did not grow overnight, but was a long-term process that began in November and culminated in her 2007 Winter Term project. While most students partake in common Winter Term activities such as going abroad, taking a class, applying for internships, reading or doing nothing, Cook decided to go above and beyond the guidelines.
While Relay For Life was a night of entertainment, there were several guidelines that had to be followed. Teams of eight to 15 people were formed and each participant had to fundraise a minimum of $100. Each team had to have at least one member walking on the track at all times throughout the entire night.
For most Oberlin participants, Relay For Life was a completely new experience. Cook, on the other hand, has collected her fair share of event T-shirts, as she hails from a town in Connecticut that puts on Relay For Life religiously.
“Relay For Life is huge back home. The whole town is involved,” said the Simsbury native.
Cook was motivated by her best friend, Rebecca Steinberg, who is a junior at Middlebury. Steinberg’s dad fell victim to cancer in their senior year of high school, which inspired Steinberg to help start up Relay for Life at the Vermont school.
Once Cook had set her mind to it, she called the American Cancer Society with the intent of starting up the program at Oberlin. After she was partnered with ACS staff member Sarah Edelman, Cook started recruiting team captains to help organize fundraising, a task she viewed as extremely difficult.
Cook worked tirelessly to recruit as many people as possible. “I’d compare organizing this event to party planning,” chuckled Cook.
For dorm residents, there was a good chance that an invitation to attend Relay For Life was attached to their door at some point. Cook put up posters all over campus as well. Despite Cook’s investment, though, few people who were not team members showed up. A frustrated Cook acknowledged that since the relay was new to Oberlin, not many people understood what it was.
“Since a lot of people didn’t know about the relay, it was really hard recruiting people. Hopefully next year people will spread the word more,” said Cook.
One person who did pay attention to the signs was sophomore Jeremy Simon. Although he was not part of a team, he took time out of his Saturday night to walk a few laps and contribute a couple dollars.
“I could have gone to a party like I do every weekend, or I could try something new,” Simon said, as he completed another lap.
The lack of numbers did not stop Cook and the 18 participating teams from having a marvelous time. Creativity echoed throughout the evening, starting with the “Lights, Camera, Cure” theme, all the way down to the fundraising games. The majority of the teams were composed of Oberlin athletic teams and athletes, but others included the Class of 2007, ResEd, OC Republicans, Pirates Dueling Cancer, It’s a Wonderful Life and touching personal tributes to cancer victims such as Talia Cohen.
The majority of the fundraising events were bake sales, but there were some unique ideas. Residential Education hosted a Texas Hold’em poker tournament outside of its tents; softball offered to make necklaces; women’s tennis made non-alcoholic margarita shots; and Team Supremium, in their homemade uniforms with name and number on the back, gave out raffle tickets for those who could hit three balloons in a row with a dart. The Blue Crushers, the swimming team, gave people a chance to “Lei” their crush, while the Class of 2007 offered massages. The volleyball team offered opportunities for those eager to show off their vocal skills by singing Disney songs.
Throughout the night, DJs played all sorts of music, people watched movies, a capella and jazz groups performed and theme laps were used to spark some excitement in what became a long night. Even when non-team members went home to bed, the walking continued, with people taking turns sleeping and walking.
The higher points of the evening were the opening ceremonial lap and the luminary lap. The former was walked by cancer survivors, who showed that there is hope for those who have been stricken by the disease. Cook felt the highlight of the evening was the luminary lap. All the lights were turned off and each person was given a small candle-like light. This was followed by a silent lap around the track, as the words “Hope” and “Cure” lay illuminated on the bleachers in the back of the track. It was a very touching moment, allowing those to remember friends and family who had passed on.
“I’ve been really stressed out, but after the luminary ceremony, I realized this is why we came here to do this. Seeing the luminary ceremony really meant something to a lot of people,” said a smiling Cook.
Cook was full of praise for all those who participated and ecstatic that people exceeded the fundraising goal. “We’re lucky to have people who are willing to come and sleep on the track all night.”
Losing sleep was just a minor price for those who participated in the all-night walk. At 10 a.m on Sunday, the relay ended. Cook felt it was a great showing, but she is not content with just one Relay For Life. Cook is intent on bringing it back every year, even after she graduates.
“I would like to see it grow each year. I want people to look forward to it like…Drag Ball and Safer Sex Night. When I am an alum, I want to come back and see [Relay For Life] again,” Cook said.