Ashley Miller '06, president and founder of St. Olaf's Cancer Connection, organized this year's event with help from seven committee leaders and many more committee members.
Two years ago, when the American Cancer Society honor house was discontinued, Miller decided to start St. Olaf's Cancer Connection, which organizes the St. Olaf Relay for Life event. "I realized the campus could benefit from a stable organization, and we've had a really good response," Miller said.
Over 800 people from the St. Olaf, Carleton and the Northfield communities attended the event, raising approximately $50,000 for cancer research. Volunteers organized themselves into teams, and each team was encouraged to have at least one member walking on the track at all times during the event Friday. Volunteers raised money before the event through donations from family members, co-workers and others.
Northfield resident Peggy Hanson, a survivor of breast cancer, was one of the first speakers to take the stage in the event's welcoming ceremony. "We are here today to honor cancer survivors, but also to honor each of you," Hanson said. Pastor Bruce Benson and Pastor Jennifer Anderson Koenig spoke to the crowd and led the participants in prayer. Next, the crowd watched as doves were released, and the relay started. For the first lap, cancer survivors, who were recognizable because of their maroon t-shirts, walked in one direction around the track as their family members and caretakers walked in the other. The two groups met halfway around the track, often embracing loved ones, and then walked a full lap together before general participants were allowed to join in.
Numerous bands and performances entertained volunteers throughout the night, including St. Olaf's Scared Scriptless, the Matt Johnson Band and a Northfield dance troupe.
Around 8:45 p.m., the luminary ceremony began. Thousands of candles inside small paper bags were lit, illuminating about 1600 names in honor or in memory of people with cancer.
Emily Clark '07 was one of the survivors who attended the relay. When she was five-years-old, Clark was diagnosed with Wilm's tumor, a kind of cancer that affects the kidney. "I guess it really shows you that life isn't guaranteed," Clark said. "Anything can happen to anyone. You're lucky to be here."
Most participants enjoyed the chance to help others, and had often chosen to volunteer because someone they knew had been personally affected by cancer. Rachael Schlee '07 and Lisa Ruas '07 were on the same team and had similar reasons for participating. "This past September, my neighbor died of cancer," Schlee said.
Ruas also mentioned people she knew who were affected by cancer. "I've had a lot of people affected by cancer," she said. "I had an uncle die of liver cancer last February."
Both participants especially liked that "hope" was spelled out in luminaries. "Language is such a powerful thing, and 'hope' has a deep meaning," Ruas said.