Relay for Life unites Syracuse community

Thousands of participants attended Syracuse University's ninth annual Relay for Life, raising more than $165,000 for the American Cancer Society.

As the clock ticked closer to 7 p.m., the Carrier Dome was buzzing with excitement as students pitched tents, unfurled sleeping bags and set up activity tables for Syracuse University’s ninth annual Relay for Life.

Emily Converse, a member of the co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega (APO), was among the thousands of participants. She was setting up a table to make cards for young cancer patients in Crouse and Upstate Hospital. She said she has participated in Relay for Life before, but added that this is the first time she is running a table.

“It’s really meaningful seeing students spending their Saturday night here instead of going out to parties.”
- Erin Shuff, event coordinator

“Cancer touches everyone, unfortunately,” Converse said.

She lost her grandfather to colon cancer, and in his honor, made a luminaria, a decorated white paper bag made to honor or memorialize a loved one with cancer.

Converse was just one of 2,126 participants at this year’s Relay for Life, which started Saturday night and continued until 5 a.m. Sunday. Throughout the night, 250 teams walked around the Dome to raise money for the American Cancer Society (ACS). Co-chair Janae DeRusso announced Monday via Twitter that the event raised $165,753 for the cause.

“It’s unbelievable,” ACS event coordinator Erin Shuff said. “It’s really meaningful seeing students spending their Saturday night here instead of going out to parties.”

In her 13 years with the ACS, Shuff says this is definitely the largest Relay she has personally overseen. She said she owes the Relay’s success to its two student co-chairs, Kelsie Bouchard and Janae DeRusso.

“They are mature and dedicated,” Shuff said. “They have done a wonderful job.”

The festivities began Saturday night with the Survivor’s Lap, in which a small group of cancer survivors, wearing purple t-shirts and “survivor” sashes, walked the first lap with Otto the Orange.

One survivor, Karen Buffum of Clay, NY, has been breast cancer-free for three months.

“It’s very sobering to see everyone here,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

She and her team, the “Foodies,” raised money throughout the night by raffling off an afghan, lottery tickets and a gift basket from the New York Lottery.   

Dean of Student Affairs Thomas V. Wolfe was on hand to cut the purple ribbon to begin the lap.

“This Dome is filled with life,” Dean Wolfe said to the crowd, “and life is the basis of hope.”

This is the third year Dean Wolfe has attended the event in memory of his father, an SU alum who would have celebrated his birthday on Saturday.

“My father would’ve been proud to see this event,” he said.

For most of the night, the Dome became party central with performances from student groups such as DanceWorks and Black Reign Step Team.

One highlight was a performance from The Lights Out, a band from Boston. One of the members, Adam Ritchie, is an alumnus from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

“It’s an honor to see Relay for Life grow over the years,” Ritchie said. “As an alum, it’s an honor to play here.”

The fundraising efforts continued throughout the night as many groups ran activities that ranged from inflatable jousting to dancing lessons.  S.P.I.R.A.L., the Pagan student group, gave tarot card readings. Army ROTC, raised money by face painting, doing push-ups ($1 for every ten pushups) and carrying participants on the litter carry, a stretcher used to carry the wounded.

At 10:00 p.m., the mood changed from joyous to contemplative as the lights dimmed for the Luminaria Ceremony. On one side of the Dome, volunteers placed glow sticks into bags that spelled out “HOPE.” On the other side, the bags spelled “CURE.”

Everyone stopped what they were doing to march on the tarp with luminarias lighting the way. Some held hands; others held each other as the emcees read off the names of those still fighting, then those who lost their fight. Some, like sophomore Jessica Di Francessco, cried while they reflected on their loved ones’ battles with cancer.

“It’s a really good opportunity for everyone to reflect on what cancer has done,” she said. “It’s a moment to grieve.”

After receiving comfort from her team “Unfinished Business,” Di Francessco, a first-time participant at the Relay, was able to continue walking.

“I feel a little better,” she said. “I’ll probably recover as the night goes on.”

It was an emotional night for everyone in the Carrier Dome as the SU community continued to celebrate, remember and fight back until the early morning, sharing in senior Alicia Bronzetti’s sentiments: “I think cancer should be kicked in the butt!”  

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