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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Community braves the weather to fight cancer

While many Grinnell College students were pampering for Waltz last Saturday, around 300 members of the Grinnell town and campus community braved the winds for a walk at Ahrens Park. The walkers were participants in the 12th annual Poweshiek County Relay for Life, a team-based walking marathon in which one member of each team must be walking on the track at all times for six hours. During the fiscal year, the event raised a grand total of 107,151 dollars to benefit the American Cancer Society.

The event began at noon on Saturday with a birthday party themed celebration to correspond with the American Cancer Society’s slogan, “The official sponsor of Birthdays.” After an afternoon of bouncy castles, face-painting and carnival games, the relay began at 6 p.m. and continued until midnight, although some participants stayed on through the night to hold an overnight vigil. The timing of the event was meant to symbolize hope and life, the participants making it through the night to the dawning of a new day.

Small team tents were spread around the footpath near the park shelter, where people could bid in a silent auction, as well as purchase t-shirts, food, snacks and luminaries, with all proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society. Adding to the close community feel of the event were performances by various local and school-sponsored music and dance groups.

Poweshiek County’s Relay for Life is part of a nationwide event called Relay for Life. The County’s Relay used to take place in September but the organizers decided to move it permanently to May in the hopes of more sunshine—and more Grinnell College students.

“Grinnell College is such a staple of the community [and] we’d really like to get you guys out here,” said Nicole Mohler, an associate of community relations for the American Cancer Society.

This year, the event definitely did—one of the eight participating teams was comprised of Grinnell College volleyball and girl’s soccer players. The college’s sports teams were encouraged by SAAC (Student Athlete Advisory Committee) to participate in the event. “It’s nice to represent the college in a good way in the community,” said Liz Davis ’11, volleyball team captain.

In order to raise money the teams held a bake sale and a raffle, in addition to creating an online registry for friends and family to donate. “We appreciate every dollar that we’ve gotten from students, faculty, friends and family,” Davis said.

Participants, the volleyball and soccer teams among them, managed to keep warm despite the harsh conditions by talking and braiding friendship bracelets. “Even though it’s cold we’re trying to do our part by walking,” Davis said.

Team members certainly had no lack of motivation. “There’s some good people at our country who had cancer, lost the fight,” said Sharon Mealey, captain of the Iowa Telecom relay team. “We just wanted to try and honor them.”

For some teams this compassion was also mixed with passion for competition. “We like to come out here and see how we’ve done compared to the other teams,” Mealey said. “We never win though.”

Organizers noted that the cold weather and conflicting events—such as Waltz, high school proms and even other fundraisers—may have led to a slightly lower turnout than expected. “We still had a good turnout on it in the end,” said Elisa Bardole, event co-chair. “We knew weather would play a factor.”

For next year’s Relay, Mohler, Bardole and fellow co-chair Sherry Thompson hope for clear skies, warm temperatures and lots of participation—something that the Grinnell College community can definitely help out with. “College kids’ enthusiasm is contagious,” Thompson said. “The college kids we’ve got here are just terrific.”

Though the event takes a lot of work to organize each year, with all of the planning and fundraising, the work is nothing compared to the payoff, according to Mohler.
“It’s very motivating and makes everything worth it when you get here and see the survivors,” Mohler said.

Both Mohler and Bardole emphasized that honoring and supporting survivors is the main focus of the event, citing the American Cancer Society’s phrase that they are “a community taking up the fight.”

“It’s about them. The money is secondary,” Bardole said.

With the event, organizers also hope to get more people involved in raising community awareness. In particular, organizers hope to get the word out about support services for those undergoing treatment, such as the Hope Lodge in Iowa City, which offers free housing to those undergoing treatment and live too far to commute. Mohler feels especially positive about the patient Helpline. “Cancer patients can call at 3:30 in the morning and there will be a live person who will answer,” Mohler said.

The unfortunate reality is that cancer has become a subject that most people can relate to, especially in Iowa.

“Everyone gets it in some way or another,” Bardole said. The search for treatments and cures for all forms of cancer are more pertinent than ever to Iowans, since this year, cancer replaced heart disease as the leading cause of death in Iowa.

Mohler emphasized the role that awareness plays in noticing cancer before it worsens and spreads. “Early detection really saves lives,” Mohler said. “You have to get past the fear of it.”

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