Eighty teams came together March 5-6 for an overnight celebration of life and hope that one day a cure for cancer will be discovered. This year’s event was dedicated to the memory of FIU professor Jeffrey Knapp, an enthusiastic supporter of the event who passed away in February.
By Karen Cochrane
Standing inside the “Survivors” tent at FIU’s annual Relay for Life, looking out at the waves of walkers streaming by, Mabel Marrero-Vega reflected on the night, her words flowing freely in the crisp night air.
“It’s mind boggling that so many people are here. Events like this give people like me hope that others will never have to go through the monster that is cancer,” said Marrero-Vega, who finished her last chemotherapy treatment Dec. 23, 2009. “Cancer takes everything away from you that defines you. You have to find yourself again, push forward and be as strong as you can be because if not, it will kill you.”
Cancer survivors were among the hundreds of individuals, young and old, who walked through the night to raise $65,000 for the American Cancer Society. Counting this year’s efforts, the FIU event has raised $380,000 for the organization.
“Raising money is one way we can honor and remember those who have lost their lives to cancer, and those who have won that fight, too,” said FIU student Denise Halpin, a member of the event committee that helped plan the event.
The festive event featured an opening “survivor lap,” as cancer survivors including Marrero-Vega walked around the Palm Avenue loop at the 8th Street entrance to Modesto A. Maidique Campus. Music pulsed through the speakers and cheers punctuated the air as the Relay for Life got underway in a party-like atmosphere on a chilly night that saw temperatures dip into the 40s. Live bands, poetry readings, solo music performances and more filled the hours as the night progressed. Team tents decorated specially for the occasion ringed the course.
At 9 p.m. the mood changed as everyone participated in a special “luminaria ceremony” honoring those who have lost their lives to cancer. People lit candles in paper bags labeled with the names of loved ones no longer here. The flickering flames provided an ethereal backdrop to the silent lap walked in their honor. Rows of bags bore the name of Jeffrey Knapp, a faculty member and director of the Academy for the Art of Teaching who passed away in February after a long battle with cancer.
“FIU’s Relay for Life is one of the biggest university relays in the country,” said FIU student Angela Baker. She was a member of the event committee that helped organize the event.
This year’s theme was “Relay Around the World,” in honor of FIU’s Global Learning for Global Citizenship initiative.