University holds first Relay for Life in Smith Center

About 500 GW students and community members camped out in Smith Center Saturday night as part of a walk-a-thon that generated about $60,000 for cancer research.

At GW’s Relay for Life – a 12-hour event sponsored by Program Board – students dressed in costumes, played root beer pong, competed in a Pretty, Pretty Princess pageant and shared stories of struggles with cancer. Program Board is donating the money raised to the American Cancer Society.

“Tonight let us remember and celebrate those who have fallen to this horrendous disease: our mothers, our uncles, friends and loved ones,” said Presidential Administrative Fellow Bianca Garcia, whom doctors diagnosed with thyroid cancer her junior year at GW. “Let’s celebrate those fighting to reclaim their lives and let’s fight back.”

At the event’s opening ceremony, Garcia fought back tears as she shared details of her personal struggle.

“In the end, after all the radiation and the pills and blood work, you have to reclaim yourself,” Garcia said. “While some days are harder than others, the days are still mine and I’m still here . I may not have asked for this, but I can get myself out of it.”

The walk-a-thon kicked off with a ‘survivor’s lap.’ Fellow relay participants applauded as Garcia and other cancer survivors made their way around Smith Center to the sound of Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor”. Garcia’s Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority members stood and held up hand-painted signs expressing their love and pride for their friend.

Caregivers joined the survivors for the second lap of the evening, followed by a third lap in which all of the 53 participating teams walked together.

Teams included sorority and fraternity groups, an EMeRG team, a group of students who recently participated in Alternative Spring Break together and the Organization of Latino American Students all claimed “camp sites” or team spaces in Smith Center.

While one team member needed to be walking at all times throughout the night, other team members were free to socialize, eat and relax. A group of students who live on the Mount Vernon campus dressed in 1960’s attire and set up a tie dye station. Presidential Administrative Fellows Josh Lasky and Ravi Alfreds sold blow pops “because cancer sucks,” Lasky said.

The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity raised the most of any GW team, collecting more than $10,000. Fraternity member David Miranda raised $4,376, making him the event’s top individual fundraiser. He said he relied on the Internet and Facebook to collect donations.

But for most students, the night was as much about raising money as it was about honoring those who have battled cancer. During the silent Ceremony of Hope, they lit bags known as luminaries to commemorate the lives of those who died of cancer and celebrate cancer survivors.

American Cancer Society representative Nicole Pielech assisted GW’s Relay for Life planning committee and said GW students may have been exhausted, but their motivation to complete the event did not falter.

“Around three in the morning it turns into a glazed walk,” said event chair Ashley Irl, a senior. “Everyone’s just keeping themselves awake. It gets to a point to where you’re walking in delirium.”

She added, “At 7 a.m. you feel really accomplished.”

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