Jana Ford signs her emails, “Go Dawgs, Beat Cancer.” For Ford and the other executive board members, Relay For Life is not just an event or an organization, but a support system and a family. Traces of Relay For Life are found in even the most ordinary, everyday tasks, like replying to emails.
“I think I can speak for every member on the exec board that without Relay, we would not be the people we are today,” said Olivia Rybski, a senior at the University of Georgia and a member of the executive board. “Although we may all be different, we all want to work together to raise money, celebrate our survivors, remember those we’ve lost and fight back to find a cure.”
Relay For Life is an overnight fundraising event that features a walk and raises money for the American Cancer Society. Relay For Life events take place all over the country, and Relay For Life at UGA, the first collegiate Relay For Life organization, works year round on campus and in the surrounding community to raise cancer awareness.
“Relay is a safe place for people who are struggling with cancer, whether it be themselves or a family member,” said Ford, a sophomore at UGA and a member of the executive board. “They can come to us for all kinds of guidance, information and support.”
Relay For Life at UGA has a membership of over 250 students and is led by a group of 30 students that sit on the executive board. The executive board coordinates events, promotes the organization and plans the actual Relay For Life event that takes place each spring.
“The walk symbolizes the walk of cancer,” said Jordyn Beaty, a sophomore at UGA and a member of the executive board. “When you’re first diagnosed and you first start the walk, you’re motivated. When it gets to the middle of the night, you’re really tired. With cancer, it gets to the point where you feel like giving up, but you keep fighting. When the sun comes up in the morning, you’ve made it through and survived another day.”
Since the first Relay For Life in 1985, the walk has evolved into a carnival-like event with booths, activities and entertainment during the walk. Anyone can register to be apart of a team, and each team fundraises in different ways throughout the night. Some teams host bake sales, while others set up inflatables and games.
Throughout year, Relay For Life hosts a number of events other than the actual walk, including a Halloween party, a benefit concert at the Georgia Theatre and a date auction. The students that make up the executive board do not work tirelessly to organize these events for the sake of their resumes. They find that being apart of Relay For Life is goes beyond organization membership.
Although not all executive board members have been directly impacted by cancer, many have experienced loss. After a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer, Virginia Rybski, Olivia Rybski’s mother, passed away in 2013.
“I decided to become more involved with Relay when I got to UGA because her doctors, caregivers and friends poured all of their time and love into helping her fight,” said Rybski. “Being a part of Relay provides me with the chance to give back to all the people who help people with cancer. I Relay for anyone who has ever been affected by cancer in any way.”
“It’s cool to have a support system,” said Jordyn Beaty, who lost her father Barry Beaty to brain cancer in 2001. “We’re a family that understands what it’s like to spend nights in the hospital and to be a caregiver. We’re not just a group of people, but support system. We don’t just get stuff done and plan events. We walk through life together and are there each step of the way.”
Members of the executive board describe Relay For Life as a family. These students find support from one another in their individual experiences with cancer, and in turn raise both funds and awareness because of their passion for finding a cure for cancer.
“When you have a group of passionate people, you’re automatically united,” said Beaty. “We’re united in finding a cure.”