Freshman Suzy Wilson remembers spending holidays at her grandmother’s house, where her favorite snacks – Fritos and ginger ale – were always laid out.
But when she was in the seventh grade, her grandmother passed away from lung cancer, prompting her to captain the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority Relay for Life team in her memory – the kind of story shared by several of the 860 students who raised $61,000 at Relay for Life Saturday night.
“She didn’t get to see any of her grandchildren married or anything like that,” Wilson said. “It’s really hard.”
The 12-hour walk around the indoor track at the Lerner Health and Wellness Center brought more than 50 student groups together, raising a record amount for the American Cancer Society. For some students, the relay is a chance to reflect on those they have lost. For others, it is a time to support their friends or remember the stories of those who have survived.
This year, more than 860 students attended the event, slightly fewer than the 1,000 that participated last year.
Relay for Life chair Lauren Clark said participation far exceeded her expectations of about 500 people, and said volunteers printed more registration forms throughout the night.
“There are a lot of things that happen on campus that are a little bit more specific, but the American Cancer Society represents every type of cancer. Everyone that’s been affected by cancer can relate to this cause, and so many people have been affected by cancer,” Clark said.
Students who stayed overnight in the gym were assigned sites on the third floor, and brought air mattresses, tents, food and games for when they were not walking around the track from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Participants took part in tug-of-war and hula hoop contests, and tie-dyed clothing throughout the night.
The top three teams – Reene’s Runners, Alpha Phi Omega and GW Women’s Rugby – each raised more than $4,000. The 11-member team Reene’s Runners brought in $4,758, compared to the second-place team, Alpha Phi Omega, which had 91 members.
Freshman Alli Meyer said she had not seen an event in her first year at GW that brought so many students from different organizations together.
“I’m doing this with my sorority, and it’s nice to see that everyone really comes together,” she said. “It’s not just one group of people here, there are so many people to be here. Everyone has a reason to be here and it’s really what Relay is all about.”
Musical groups, including the GW Sirens and the GW Troubadours, performed throughout the night. The Troubadours, which was awarded crowd favorite at the Battle of the A Cappella Groups, sang during the luminaria ceremony, a more somber lap dedicated to cancer survivors.
Camp Kesem, a student group that hosts a week-long summer camp for children ages six to 18 that have a family member with cancer, took part in the relay again, bringing campers along for one of the reunions they host throughout the year.
One of the camp’s participants and her mother both spoke during the opening ceremony and told Relay attendants how the camp made both their lives easier while their father and husband was suffering from cancer.
Junior Shailly Gaur, Camp Kesem’s public relations coordinator, said that the two organizations had similar missions, so it made sense to include the campers.
“It’s a fun atmosphere. They’re able to see us again, it’s a normal reunion atmosphere. But they also remember why it is they come to camp, why it is they’re involved,” she said.