The University of San Diego’s Valley Field was a visual and physical example of strength, determination and dedication for the hundreds who participated in the third annual USD Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society event run by USD’s College Against Cancer (CAC) student organization on March 30-31.
The strength came from the inaugural lap at 6 p.m. Friday led by USD community cancer survivors, including Maria Estrada (pictured, left) who wore designated purple “Survivor” t-shirts with pride. The determination lasted the full 24 hours, capped off by USD student Ali Olson doing a Michael Jackson-esque moonwalk to celebrate her quest to do laps for the event’s entire 24 hours in support of loved ones lost to this deadly disease.
Olson, a senior anthropology major, knew she’d be doing laps from 6 p.m. to 6 p.m. because all Relay for Life participants understand that the 24-hour schedule is a reminder that “cancer never sleeps” and those stricken with cancer face it 24 hours a day.
“Everyone should be involved,” Olson said. “Cancer affects everyone. Directly or not, cancer affects someone you know. It doesn’t discriminate.”
This year’s event, changed to “iRelay” for Life, honored late Apple founder Steve Jobs and provided participants a chance to answer the question, “I Relay for …” The event raised awareness, celebrated survivors, remembered loved ones lost and raised money for cancer research. Event Committee Chairperson Samantha Jasa, a USD junior and CAC President, said the 2012 Relay for Life has raised more than $32,000. Support came from online donations as well as support throughout campus.
Olson, a residential hall assistant and a staff member for USD’s Women’s Center, has participated in all three USD Relay for Life events. She embodies the event’s mission. Olson walked for 15 hours at the 2010 Relay for Life, dedicating three hours each for five loved ones who had died from cancer-related illness. When her grandfather passed away, it increased to six people and four hours each, 24 hours of walking, in 2011. Olson pledged to do 24 hours again and she kept the people that she dedicated her walk to by scribbling their names in pen on her wrist. One new aspect for Olson was realizing that she wasn’t the only USD student dedicated to walking for the entire event.
Nicole Tucker, a junior biology major, and freshman Lucas Parelius both met Olson and wound up following her example.
Tucker, active in Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, University Ministry and Phi Delta Epsilon, attended each USD Relay for Life, but hadn’t met Olson until this year. Tucker walked this year for Nate, a friend of hers who succumbed to cancer two years ago. She said it was Nate’s birthday on March 30. She dedicated her walk in his memory and meeting Olson gave her a boost to go the distance.
“Ali did it for 24 hours last year and that inspired me,” Tucker said. “Seeing someone else out her who was so dedicated made me think, ‘if she can do it, why can’t I?’”
Parelius, studying international business and sociology, met Olson during Relay for Life’s most dedicated timeframe — 2 to 5 a.m. He was walking and reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest while Olson was reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The two spoke struck up a conversation, discovered they had the same 24-hour goal and a friendship was formed.
Parelius walked for his late grandfather as well as a young cousin who’s been touched by cancer since being diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 2. Surgery was done then to remove it, but his cousin had another bout with cancer last year.
“I was inspired by a quote I saw during the Luminaria ceremony,” said Parelius of a special nighttime Relay for Life activity in which small bags are colorfully decorated with inspirational messages and candles are lit to honor lost loved ones and those battling cancer. “It said ‘Cancer. It’s a word, not a sentence.’ It made an impression on me. I hope one day it’s just a word.”
The meeting of Olson, who graduates in May and will enter the Peace Corps in the near future, and Parelius, a USD newcomer, symbolized a passing of the torch for an extremely dedicated USD Relay for Life student participant.
“I’m excited to do this event every year,” said Parelius, who is also involved in USD’s Ambassadors Club, as vice president of the Camino/Founders Residential Hall Association and as a tutor at Montgomery Middle School. “Relay for Life needs to be continuously supported. Meeting Ali here was great. She helped show me that it was possible.”
Raising the $32,000 showed that the USD community steps up when it comes to raising money for cancer research. Last year, also under Jasa’s leadership, the event raised more than $40,000.
Three teams and six individuals were honored for raising the most money to date. Jasa (pictured, above left) said the online link to the 2012 USD Relay for Life page will be active for donations until August.
Given the strength and determination of survivors, community members and student participants like Tucker, Olson and Parelius (pictured together, above right), USD will continue to be dedicated to “celebrate, remember and fight back” against cancer.
— Ryan T. Blystone