For the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the popular cancer awareness walk Relay For Life comes back to Hofstra University, looking to raise money — and ultimately defeat cancer — during an event on Saturday, May 6.
Beginning at 6 p.m., 20 teams have already registered to walk the intramural fields track at the 1000 Hempstead Turnpike campus. Teams and individuals celebrate cancer survivors through the walk, while also remembering and honoring those who lost their battle with cancer.
While this year’s Relay For Life is in-person, it’s not that events haven’t been happening in recent years. If they weren’t canceled, some events were conducted virtually.
“Luckily, we were able to maintain ourselves through some very generous donors,” Chelsea Whitney, senior development manager at the American Cancer Society, said. “We were able to bring all of our programs back — including Relay For Life — to cancer patients and their families. And to communities as a whole.”
Relay For Life has raised $6.8 billion across the country, invest more than $3 billion toward cancer research. It’s fundraising like that which has reduced cancer deaths by 3.5 million, according to the society.
Aside from attendees walking around the track, the relay will feature music, food, and a variety of activities including team fundraisers, carnival games like Pie a Professor in the Face and tug-of-war, as well as performances by Danceworks and Hofstra’s a cappella group.
“Hofstra University specifically is such a pillar of the Long Island community,” Whitney said. “Everyone’s connected in some way to this terrible disease. So, having this event at Hofstra gives the students an opportunity to come together as a community that’s already so strong.”
Makenna Robbins — a Hofstra sophomore and chapter president for the American Cancer Society at her school — was not yet a student in 2019 when the last relay was held in-person. But she’s no stranger to the event.
“I think it’s really important that this is returning to Hofstra because it gives people a space,” Robbins said. “Especially people who had cancer affect their lives personally, just like me.”
The Syracuse native and mass media major lost a family friend, Emily Ponto, to ovarian cancer in 2018. Robbins’ family has had a long personal history with Relay For Life, with her mother Kelly sponsoring an event through her job at Lockheed Martin when Robbins was younger.
“It was pretty severe by the time they caught it,” Robbins said of her friend, Emily. “She ended up passing away that May. I have a lot of family members who have survived or passed away from cancer, and now I relay for her. And in the past, I relayed for my family members, my grandma, and some of my cousins who have all survived cancer.”
After dark, relay participants will share an emotional moment during the luminaria ceremony. There, bags filled with lights will be decorated with the name of an individual who lost their battle with cancer. Or a survivor. Or someone who is currently battling cancer.
Each luminaria will be lit, and participants will take a silent lap around the track together.
“Usually, that is one of those times where a lot of people get very emotional,” Robbins said. “We are always there to support each other, and you can feel that connection with people.”
To learn more about this particular event, visit RelayForLife.org/HofstraNY.