Relay For Life changes times, updates programming to attract more participants

As this year’s Relay For Life event kicks off, participants will notice some big changes, starting first and foremost with when it’s actually taking place.

So far, 67 teams comprising nearly 800 members will begin the 18-hour walk Saturday, April 21, at 1 p.m.—a marked change from previous years when the event began on a Friday evening and ended Saturday afternoon. Event organizers said they moved Relay For Life to a Saturday afternoon start in an attempt to be more family-friendly, giving attendees more daylight hours during which their children can attend.

It’s not just families who organizers want to see participate more. For the first time at Case Western Reserve’s event, more survivors can be involved—even if they can’t be at Relay For Life—through the American Cancer Society’s Virtual Survivor program.

“We know that many students have friends and family who are survivors but who aren’t able to make it to our Relay,” explained Angela Lowry, student services coordinator at the Center for Civic Engagement & Learning. “The Virtual Survivor program allows students to represent survivors they know by walking in our Survivor Lap on their behalf.” These “virtual survivors” will then receive a Relay For Life Survivor T-shirt after the event and will be recognized by the American Cancer Society.

In addition, the Relay For Life planning committee focused on getting other groups involved, such as graduate students, faculty, staff and the Cleveland community.

Prior to the event, participants led fundraising efforts for faculty and staff, such as a faculty wine tasting, dress-down day and a 50/50 raffle. More faculty/staff-led teams than ever are involved in this year’s event, Lowry said.

To help increase participation at Relay For Life, the planning committee developed on-site programming targeted to each group, such as a Euclid Tavern fundraising/networking event for graduate students to take place during Relay for Life and activities such as carnival games and coloring contests for employees and their families.

These efforts paid off: This year, there are already 67 teams signed up to walk in Relay For Life—an increase over last year’s 59 teams—including first-time teams from Cleveland-area high schools such as Orange, Brush, Shaker Heights and John Hay, Lowry said.

The schedule for the weekend is now set, with pre-event festivities beginning with a tailgate Saturday at 12:30 p.m., with food, beverages and activities for guests.

At 1 p.m., Relay For Life officially kicks off at Coach Bill Sudeck Track in North Residential Village with an opening ceremony featuring President Barbara R. Snyder, followed by remarks from honorary chair and faculty member Amy Wilson-Delfosse.

The Relay For Life planning committee selected Wilson-Delfosse, assistant dean for basic science education in the School of Medicine, as honorary chair for her role as a caretaker for her husband, a cancer survivor. She has been involved in Case Western Reserve’s Relay For Life since its inception in 2008, and it’s an event she called “the most fun event I have ever participated in on campus.” As honorary chair, Wilson-Delfosse will represent the family and friends who take care of individuals with cancer. “There is really nothing special about me but there is something very special about the caregivers that I am representing at this year’s Relay,” she said.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, there is a full schedule of events, from themed laps and a luminaria ceremony to crafts, games and student performances. In addition, teams will hold creative fundraising activities, such as a wing-eating contest, a cupcake food truck, fencing lessons and more.

After midnight, the action continues with events such as the Midnight Pizza Party and the first “Save Second Base” kickball tournament, for which the advocacy group has organized a breast cancer awareness campaign.

Throughout the event, numerous on-campus partners and off-campus vendors, including gold sponsors Bon Appetit Management Co., Qdoba and Jolly Scholar, will provide food and beverages.

Finally, at 6:30 a.m.—nearly 18 hours after the first lap—Provost W.A. “Bud” Baeslack III will host the closing ceremony, where he will announce fundraising totals.

Event organizers said they hope to raise $75,000 for cancer research and cancer patients. Beyond fundraising, Relay For Life also aims to spread cancer awareness, celebrate the lives of survivors and remember those who lost their lives to cancer.

Interested individuals still can join a team by visiting, or simply come participate in the event.