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UA's first Relay for Life raises $32K

KEVIN B. KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Participants walk around the track at Drachman Stadium Saturday morning as part of UA's first Relay for Life to raise money for cancer research.
By Aaron Mackey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, March 1, 2004
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Rain and wind couldn't stop the UA's first Relay For Life Friday.

Nearly 500 students, faculty, alumni and cancer survivors walked or ran for 15 hours to raise $32,000 for the American Cancer Society.

The relay began at 6 p.m. on Friday and lasted until 9 a.m. Saturday, with 36 teams participating.

Tents lined the soggy infield of the Drachman Stadium as students tossed footballs and laughed despite the rain and wind that swept through Tucson Friday, bringing temperatures down to 43 degrees.

Breanna Weeks, a communication junior and event co-chair, said she was ecstatic about the turnout and found people's dedication to the event in spite of the bad weather to be "heartwarming."

The relay began with Lydia Koch, a retail and consumer sciences junior and cancer survivor, cutting a red ribbon as cheers rose from the crowd.

Koch, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of 12, led the first lap of the race with other cancer survivors.

Before beginning, Koch thanked participants for their efforts.

"With all the things college kids have on their plates, they took the time out to come and raise money," she said.

Koch, who lost her hair twice during her battle with cancer, underwent chemotherapy for one year and radiation therapy for six months.

Friday's relay was the first event Koch had participated in. She said the treatment put her in too much pain to walk in prior events.

Jerry Schuster, a UA alumnus, ran and walked on the track for the entire 15 hours of the relay.

Schuster, who lost his mother to cancer, said he participated to help researchers move one step closer to finding a cure for cancer.

"You've got to keep fighting the disease," he said. "You've got to keep working for a cure."

At 10 p.m., all the lights were turned out as everyone present took part in the Mile of Hope.

Luminarias, each symbolizing a person with cancer or a person who died from cancer, lined the track as a video projection screen listed names of those remembered.

Participants slowly walked beneath the bleachers of the track, as luminarias spelled out "hope."

Weeks, whose grandmother died when her mother was 12, said the event offered "hope for survivors and hope for all of us" to eventually find a cure.

Saundra Taylor, senior vice president for Campus Life, said she was pleased with the student turnout and saw the event as an important part of building community.

"Survival is about community, and students are a part of this community," she said.

Taylor's team, which included other faculty members, raised the most money, donating $5,291.

Brian Elisco, a pre-physiological sciences sophomore and team recruitment co-chair, was thrilled with the turnout.

Elisco said the turnout topped both Arizona State University's and Northern Arizona University's attendance.

Elisco also said the UA's event beat the City of Tucson's first Relay For Life, which had only 11 teams present. But Elisco said he hopes turnout will increase in coming years so that more money can be raised to find a cure.

"The American Cancer Society is involved with every major breakthrough (in cancer research). This money's going to the right place," he said.

Participants bounced and swung as they walked the track to tunes provided by Uptown City DJs. Events throughout the night, such as relay races and cross-dressing contests, kept participants' minds off the wet and cold weather.

After paying for various expenses, Weeks said $28,000 will be donated to the American Cancer Society.

"Each and every bit that goes to the American Cancer Society moves them closer to a cure," she said.

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