Students walk for life and relay message of survival

Eighty-nine teams of students and faculty members signed up for this year’s Relay for Life to raise money for cancer research.

Yelena Kibasova

University students will gather tonight to participate in a 12-hour walk for cancer research.

Relay for Life, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, brings together the community and those who have been affected by cancer to collect money for cancer research.

Student teams will walk around the track at the University Field House from 7 p.m. today to 7 a.m. Saturday.

“Cancer doesn’t sleep and people who have cancer live with it 24/7, so it’s our way of sort of honoring and trying to at least, for a night, support them in a different and unique way,” said Jenny Meslow, University faculty member and chairwoman of the University Relay for Life.

Three years ago Meslow introduced the walkathon to the University after attending a Relay for Life event in Wisconsin. Meslow, who lost her son to bone cancer, was surprised by the power of the national event.

“I expected to be sort of bummed out by the event and it’s anything but,” she said. “It was just an incredible community-building overnight walkathon.”

As of Thursday evening, 89 teams had registered for the University event, and Meslow expects more to register today. The first year brought in 24 groups and that number more than doubled the second year.

Colleges Against Cancer, a student group on campus, helped put together the event.

“It’s a really great way for students on campus to unite against cancer,” said Jenna Langer, publicity chairwoman for Colleges Against Cancer and a sophomore public relations major whose cancer is in remission.

Many students have formed their own groups to collect donations for the relay.

Aleksandr S. Ablamunets, an accounting and entrepreneurial management sophomore, started the “Walk Tall” team.

“I’ve seen way too many people affected by cancer,” he said. “My personal goal in life is just do everything that I can to fight this disease.”

The team has received donations from individuals but also asked business for contributions.

Ablamunets said businesses in Dinkytown such as Blarney Pub & Grill, the Steaknife and the Loring Pasta Bar made generous donations to his team.

Ablamunets’ cousin, Aleksandr I. Ablamunets, also an accounting and entrepreneur management sophomore, has put together a team of his own. The team, called “For Pete Sake,” honors Pete, Meslow’s son, who died of cancer and who was a “guiding angel” for Aleksandr I. Ablamunets during his treatment.

Aleksandr I. Ablamunets plans to participate in the survivor lap at the beginning of the night as he has during past years.

“It really feels like you’re stepping on cancer,” he said. “You feel proud and you can just feel the energy of everyone who is gathered there to support you.”

Besides celebrating cancer survivorship, this year’s event also celebrates 60 years of American Cancer Society research, Langer said. This is also the first year in the past 50 the rate of cancer deaths has decreased.

“It really shows the money we’re raising for the American Cancer Society is definitely being put to good use for research,” she said.

As part of the tribute to those impacted by cancer, luminarias will be put around the track and kept lit throughout the night, Meslow said. Luminaria bags are bought and decorated by groups and individuals.

“(The luminarias are) in honor of someone living with or someone who has died from cancer,” Meslow said.

She said Colleges Against Cancer also has put together games for the event based on reality television shows such as “Star Search” and “America’s Next Top Model.”