Why and How we Relay

Staff Writer Clara Scheidle

Photos courtesy of Eli Owens

March 9 marked the 12th annual Relay for Life at the University of Hawai`i at Hilo. Relay for Life is a community-based fundraising event tied to the American Cancer Society, and although the event is known for its physical requirement, Relay for Life is about much more than people taking a lap around campus.

Picture this. A large group of people--families, students, and survivors alike--sit in front of a stage, patiently awaiting instructions with glow sticks in their hands. The announcer on stage prompts: “If you know someone who has been affected by cancer, please break and hold up your glow sticks.” Imagine the sound of a hundred glow sticks breaking and the sight of neon colors lifted high by almost every hand in the audience.

This all happened during the Luminaria at Relay for Life--an event meant to convey just how pervasive the consequences of cancer are. The Luminaria also featured the stories of students affected by cancer, as well as motivational speeches from cancer survivors.

Lexi Dalmacio, the coordinator of the Luminaria and a UH Hilo student, says that although it took place in under an hour, the event has been in the works since last semester. After returning from a study abroad program at the beginning of spring semester, Dalmacio was the only member in the planning committee, but soon recruited three new members.

Since then, the group has been meeting for two to three hours a week to organize their niche within the larger Relay for Life. Not only did the members of Luminaria have to stand on stage and share why they “relayed,” but they also had to run the booth and make the Garden of Unity.

The Garden of Unity was designed as a resting place for the glow sticks and for the rosebuds that were given out to those about to take another lap. The lap done just after the Luminaria event was taken in silence to signify respect for those who have been lost due to cancer, as well as those who continue to fight.

The effect was truly powerful. Dalmacio says of the glow stick ceremony: “When I saw the first lights, I knew this was worth it. Seeing everyone actively respond to what we’re doing and how we’re all impacted made my heart crumble.”

The Luminaria was just one of many activities to take place that night. Some of the other events included dance performances by clubs on campus, a few different rounds of karaoke, an auction to “pie” UH Hilo teachers who volunteered, and the annual Relay Royalty Pageant.

The entire Campus Center Plaza, all the way to the elevator at UCB, was lined with booths set up by different clubs on campus. Each club was representing different types of cancer, complete with a poster denoting what part of the body the cancer affected, how to spot the signs, and treatments. Each booth was advertising something unique to attract passerby, including food, prizes, games, or the chance to learn a new skill.

The INT Dance Squad, for example, offered a round of the Nintendo Wii game “Just Dance,” and the Rotaract Club was teaching participants how to make lei from ti leaves. There was no lack of entertainment at this year’s Relay for Life, an impressive feat considering that it lasted 12 hours from sundown to sunrise.

Kimiko Taguchi was on campus for the event even longer. As co-coordinator of Relay for Life, Taguchi was in charge of entertainment, marketing, activities, and ceremonies. She started preparing for the event at 10 a.m. that morning.

Organizing the relay, however, began as soon as last year’s relay ended. The PR, marketing, and entertainment chair Kapali Bilyeau adds that they began organizing “more intensively” in October 2017. First, they constructed the committee and decided to make this year’s fundraising goal $20,000.

Taguchi states that this year they raised $12,533, which amounts to roughly $1,044.41 each hour. All of the money raised during the event is donated to the American Cancer Society and is used to fund cancer research, as well as to explore different kinds of treatment options for those who are diagnosed.

The cost of raising awareness, however, is priceless. Student photographer Eli Owens said that this event “highlights the human spirit” and “brings out the best and most caring versions of all of us.” He believes that the relay’s impact on the community is boundless because it brings to light the fight for cancer and gives people a common goal to rally for.

Owens explains that the photos he took that night were inspired by seeing people of all ages and backgrounds taking action, spreading the message, sharing love, and having fun together as a college community. Dalmacio says that the importance of the event is ultimately “to honor those who are battling, to remember those we have lost, and, most importantly, to remember that anyone who has been impacted by cancer is not alone. We’re all here together to find a cure.”