Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Meet Exec!

Meet the 2016-2017 Relay Exec Chairs!

Relay Chairs:

Minh Bui 
Year: Fourth
Major: Sociology 
Why I Relay: I relay for my Aunt who lost her battle to colon cancer when I was 16.
Fun Fact: I once got stuck in a seatbelt and had to get cut free. (I have no other fun facts)

Miller Sisson

Year: Fourth
Major: Biology
Why I Relay: I relay in honor of my grandmother, Nanny, and in memory of my grandfather, Papa. I also Relay because I believe that our generation can be the one that sees the end of cancer as we know it. 
Fun fact: My childhood nickname was "Momo"

Entertainment Chairs:

Taylor Head
Year: Fourth
Major: Biology and Public Policy & Leadership
Why I Relay: I relay for my Popop
Fun Fact: I have been to Antarctica

Casey Baker
Year: Third
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Why I relay: friends, neighbors, teachers 

First Year Recruitment Chairs:

Caroline Biondo

Year: Second
Major: Undecided
Why I Relay: I relay for my high school field hockey and softball coach, Deb Brown. 
Fun Fact: As a proud New Yorker, I could talk about bagel quality for hours. I love bagels.

Emily Smith
Year: Third
Major: Commerce
Why I Relay: I relay in memory of my grandfather who passed away from lung cancer and to do my part in finding a cure.
Fun Fact: I hiked the Grand Canyon this summer.

Fundraising Chairs:

Derek Wu
Year: Third
Major: Chemical Engineer
Why I Relay: I Relay for my father. When he was battling cancer, I saw the toll that battling cancer takes and I Relay so that others can see the hope and support that we provide.
Fun Fact: I have hit a hole in one in real golf!

Rebecca Richardson
Year: Second
Why I Relay: I personally Relay for my Uncle Sammy and my Grandmother's best friend, BB, who was recently diagnosed with liver and lung cancer. Relay gives me the opportunity to do as much as I can so that people like Sammy and BB don't have to experience the terrifying effects of cancer alongside their family and friends.

Finance and Logistics Chairs:

Schyler Pa
Year: Fourth
Major: Commerce
Why I Relay: I relay for my grandpa and for many of my family friends who have also lost their loved ones to cancer.
Fun Fact: I rescued baby squirrels last semester outside of Student Health.

Matt Van de Graaf
Year: Fourth
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Why I Relay: Relay at UVA is an awesome community of students that join together in the fight against cancer. I Relay because it offers me the chance to fight a terrible disease alongside some amazing people.
Fun Fact: I'm part of the UVA Triathlon Club.

Food Chairs:

Sydney Thomas
Year: Fourth
Major: Elementary Education & Sociology
Why I Relay: I Relay for my friend who passed away from cancer. She inspired me to be a dedicated friend and a passionate leader!
Fun Fact: I live on the largest island in the Chesapeake Bay called Kent Island, and my favorite food is crabs.

Taylor Hogge
Year: Third
Major: Kinesiology major
Why I Relay: I relay for the loved ones I've lost, all of those that have been affected by cancer, and for a cure!
Fun Fact: My closet is organized by color

Greek Recruitment Chairs:

Hannah Hecht
Year: Third
Major: Media Studies major & Art History minor
Why I Relay: I relay for my grandma, aunt, and grandfather who have all beaten cancer due to the progress that organizations like the american cancer society have made. I want to honor their strength and hope that we can find a cure to have more stories of people who have won the fight to this disease.
Fun Fact: When I was in Africa we got charged by a bull elephant and we had to hop in our truck and run for our lives. They are still my favorite animal though and I have upwards of thirty stuffed animal elephants that I don't plan on getting rid of anytime soon.

Maggie Low
Year: Third
Major: Leadership & Public Policy 
Why I Relay: I Relay for my dad who passed away from colon cancer 8 years ago
Fun Fact: I studied at the University of Oxford this past summer through the UVA in Oxford program

Mission and Outreach Chairs:

Courtney Colahan
Year: Second
Major: Economics
Why I Relay: I Relay for my mom, a two time breast cancer survivor, and for my grandfather who passed away from leukemia 19 years ago
Fun fact: I was a competitive diver for five years

Sandy Chang
Year: Third
Major: Foreign Affairs Major
Why I Relay: I relay for Joyce Firing, Kendall Bayne, Joyce Thompson, Hannah Bryant. I relay for more birthdays.
Fun Fact: I won a flat screen tv at College Game Day my First Year (game vs. Duke)

Publicity and Social Media Chairs:

Catherine Beall
Year: Fourth
Major: Commerce
Why I Relay: In memory of my cousin Will Candler and in support of everyone who has, is or will fight cancer.
Fun fact: I've been shark cage diving!
Maria Wnorowski
Year: Fourth
Major: Biology and minor in Religious Studies
Why I Relay: I Relay for my Uncle Dan - who showed what being a true IronMan is really about.
Fun Fact: I've ridden a cow before. 

Sponsorship Chairs:

Anna Cooper
Year: Third
Major: Commerce
Why I Relay: I relay for those that fought and those that are fighting, for my family, for my friends, and for more birthdays!
Fun Fact: I went cage diving with great whites this past summer!

Laura Duke
Year: Third
Major: Math and Econ Major
Why I Relay: I Relay to fight with and give strength to cancer patients, family members, friends, and caretakers, to honor those who lost their battle, and to support the survivors.
Fun Fact: My twin sister is the Entertainment Chair for Relay for Life at Syracuse!

Team Recruitment Chairs:

Gwendolyn Apgar
Year: Fourth
Major: Kinesiology
Why I Relay: I Relay for my mom, aunts, Dott, and so that no one has to hear the words 'you have cancer'. The world needs more birthdays and while I know the fight to end cancer is far from over, I Relay with the hope that we can get that much closer to living in a cancer-free world.
Fun Fact: I went to Uganda last summer and stood on the equator line.

Jesse Spear
Year: Fourth
Major: Media Studies and Spanish
Why I Relay: I relay specifically for my Granny and my Uncle Bruce - my two heroes and guardian angles. More generally, I relay for anyone whose life has been altered or ended by this awful disease.
Fun fact: I once had a close encounter with a rhino in South Africa!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

For The Stories

“Cancer begins and ends with people. In the midst of scientific abstraction, it is sometimes possible to forget this one basic fact….” – June Goodfield

Cancer begins and ends with people. I can’t imagine a phrase that Relay For Life embodies more. Throughout four years of college, my experience at UVA has been defined by cancer, but perhaps it is more apt to say that it has been defined by the people that cancer has brought into my life, namely those of Relay For Life at UVA.

My story begins the exact same way each time I tell it: my life changed forever in a Marriot in Georgetown. That November afternoon, my parents sat me down to tell me my mother had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. So when I joined Relay For Life in the spring of 2013, all I knew was that my mom was sick, and because I lacked a medical degree and really any medical knowledge beyond the idea that you can get rid of a cold with lots of fluids and rest, there was nothing I could do. But I needed a tangible way to fight something that I could not see and honestly did not totally understand.

Cancer is hard to grasp. From the moment of diagnosis to the treatments, it seems impossible to understand, and for the most part, often does not feel we know much about it. We know its hard to fight and even harder to beat, but does the common person, the people who are most likely affected by this disease, do they know how it spreads? Why it emerges? How exactly we fight it? Not truly. I was that person. I was a scared 18 year old who was 9 hours away from home and thought she was losing her best friend in the world.

But as scary as cancer is, as much as it has changed my life, not all the changes cancer has made have been bad ones. After bouncing around from major to major I finally found my calling: nursing. I joined an organization that would give me some of my best friends and greatest leadership opportunities, and would ultimately characterize my entire UVA experience. It gave me a support system of immeasurably talented and passionate people, who understood what I was experiencing.

In addition to my work with Relay, I spent this year studying the language we use to discuss cancer. I talked to survivors, caregivers, doctors, nurses, and volunteers about their experiences and their stories. Each day, I heard about the incredible strength, positivity, and bravery that fighting cancer requires. Everyone I have met, both through my research and through Relay, has an unbelievable story of courage and adversity that fully characterizes the life-affirming affect cancer has on people’s lives.

So I relay for those stories. I relay for the stories of my family and friends, for those stories that inspire everyone at Relay For Life at UVA to relay and work as hard as they do each day. I relay for the people I have never met, never heard of, and will never know who have been touched by cancer. I relay to see the end of cancer in my lifetime. I relay so my children never have to hear those words “your mother has cancer”. I relay for the life-affirmation that comes out of this terrible diagnosis.

I relay for life, past, present, and future.

This Friday, Relay For Life at UVA will celebrate survivors, remember those taken too soon, and fight back against this disease that has influenced each of our stories in a unique way. From 6PM on Friday to 6AM on Saturday morning, we will be out at Carr’s Hill Field to symbolize that cancer never sleeps and to revere those who fight each and every day.

12 hours of people, brought together by cancer from beginning to end.

So here’s to you, Mom. I love you.


Event Co-Chair

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Why I Run

Throwback to sophomore year high school track when I was literally the slowest runner on my team. Despite finishing the season and all-in-all having a good time hanging out with friends, I had every intention of that being the end of my running career and saving the sport for simply staying in shape. Flash forward almost four years to my second year of college and I had just finished my first (and what I had assumed would be last) half-marathon. And now, here we are, today, a little over a year later, and I’m in the process of preparing for my second of three races in the course of a month. You may be asking (and often I find myself asking), what happened? Why running? Well, ask me that about 9 miles into any run and often I will not have the best answer. But as soon as I cross that finish line and am so welcomed by the running community, all of the reasons come flooding back.

My personal journey with cancer begins long before I came into existence. My grandmother passed away from cancer when my mom was only 12. Hearing that even as I write this gives me goosebumps - I barely go 48 hours without a phone call to my mom. However, things entered a whole new level of “real” the summer of 2011 when my dad’s oldest brother, Dan, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Though the journey was not easy, that November we got the news he was in remission. While I was grateful that our immediate family had been blessed by this wonderful news, I struggled through the rest of high school as I watched a classmate, family friends, and the parents of teammates battle cancer - some have great survival stories but still far too many are unable to share their story today.

And just as it seems life can do, cancer appeared to follow me to college. First year first semester, I got the phone call one day while studying in Clark that Dan has been diagnosed with cancer again; this time colon cancer. Back in the battle field yet again. Being 3 hours away from my immediate family and over 10 hours away from my extended family, I felt so alone and helpless. I felt as though Dan and the rest of my family were facing a giant monster that was impossible to be defeated - attack one weakness and it can grow back three times stronger somewhere else.

However, during the following summer a series of events changed my perspective. First: on July 18th, 2014, I received the most joyful email: the all-clear. We - he - had in fact done it again. The monster had been defeated. However, I knew the story couldn’t stop there. While I was overjoyed that the Wnorowski family had defeated cancer, I realized I knew far too many people that were still in the midst of the fight. That fall semester I got the wonderful privilege to become a more integral part of Relay For Life at UVA.  The more active I become, the more my peers inspired and motivated me to constantly do and push myself more; to somehow be a part of the movement that wasn’t backing down to the monster.

That fall, I signed up for the  Anthem Richmond Half-Marathon as a way to honor Dan, who has run 30+ marathons AND is officially an IronMan x2 (crazy I know!). I viewed it as a way to grow closer to him while also raising awareness of cancer among my close friends and family. I had every intention to finish that race, be thrilled with the fact that I had completed a half-marathon, do some fundraising through some sponsorships, grow a step closer to Dan, and then go back to my weekly (maybe monthly) 2 mile runs. But the feelings of race day are something incredible, especially with the Richmond Half-Marathon.

You begin the night before by going to the running expo where there are runners, families, friends, and businesses from throughout the East Coast. All so excited to be there and upon finding out this is your first race, spouting out more race-day advice and words of encouragement than you can find on Tumblr. Then the next morning, you begin by waking up at 5 a.m. and making the early morning drive to the city where you park and begin the walk to the start. Runners everywhere. The nerves hit - so many incredibly physically fit people. I can’t do this. What if I come in last? What if my time is awful? Oh this is a bad idea. But soon enough, you’re shuffled into your time group by the most peppy announcer who knows more One Direction lyrics than the average teenage girl and before you even have time to re-tie your shoes, the gun has gone off and you’re off.

Each mile comes and goes, and with each stretch of the road there are crowds of people cheering you on. Supportive signs including: “13.1... you’re only half crazy!” and “Run like Ryan Gosling is at the end with a puppy!” Dogs, children, Gatorade, beer, and high-fives make each mile come and go until before you know it you have reached the 13 mile sign and are on the final downhill stretch and then wa-la: you’re done! The finish is filled with people taking pictures, handing out medals, blankets, food, water, you name it. Random runners walk up and congratulate you. You find your best friend and family who embrace you with the best hugs despite your slightly sweaty stench. The community is something so unique and amazing, and I had this epiphany moment. This is the community Relay For Life creates.

It is a world-wide organization whose main goal and mission is to be a support system for the individuals and families battling cancer each and every day. Whether that means handing out a meal and a place to stay at the Hope Lodge after a long race or offering a supportive shoulder right when things seem to be the toughest. All of us are at different spots in the race.  Some people are the runners - those battling cancer and undergoing various treatments. Others are the families - waiting anxiously to see moms, dads, brothers, and sisters run every step of the way and willing to give whatever it takes to be as supportive as possible. And others are the volunteers - those who help set up or take down - doing whatever small things we can to help those runners finish. But we all come together for single, common goal - to see our beloved runners finish a race that we all dream will soon never have to be run - the race against cancer!

And so I have kept running. It serves as a reminder of the wonderful community of Relay For Life that I belong to and my integral role in being a volunteer to see patients cross the finish line. Since that first half in the fall of 2014, I have ran another half, a 10-miler, and have a 10K and third half in the next two weeks. The more I run, I have found there are days when the road is literally more uphill than I am prepared for, so I have developed a way to keep myself motivated and to remind myself how blessed I am to be able to be a part of this movement. Each race day, I write down on my arm the number of miles followed by the name of a friend or family member who is battling or has battled cancer. As someone who has a strong faith, I begin each mile with a Hail Mary followed by a special intention for that person and to remind myself that each step I take is reflective of the bigger picture that Relay is taking towards a future with no cancer.

So as I approach a 10K this Saturday, I started brainstorming who I will be running for:
Kilo 1 - I Relay for all of those who have already fought the fight against cancer - both those alive today to tell about it and those whose stories remain told by their loved one.
Kilo 2 - I Relay in honor of  Dan Wnorowski - the reason I found two amazing communities of running and Relay For Life.
Kilo 3 - I Relay in memory of Maria Hirst - the mother of my mom who I never met, but judging by her daughter, can tell she was an incredible person.
Kilo 4 - I Relay in honor of Maria Davalos Oesterle, my mother’s sister who has battled breast cancer.
Kilo 5 - I Relay in memory of Polly Zeiger - an amazing mother and teacher who affected more lives than she’ll ever know
Kilo 6 - I Relay in honor of Dr. Erin Champagne - as amazing veterinarian who has taught me incredible both academic and life lessons  
Kilo 7 - I Relay in honor of Julie Snyder - a good friend’s mother who helped raise me into the person I am today
Kilo 8 - I Relay in honor of Charlie Humphreys - who is one of the strongest kids I know and just so happened to defeat brain cancer
Kilo 9 - I Relay in memory of Kendall Bayne - an amazing student who has been an inspiration to so many people
Kilo 10 - I Relay in honor of a future in which my children will not face a world in which the word cancer can bring so much heartbreak.

And so I run to see a world in which the word cancer is something of the past. But until that moment, I’ll keep fundraising and keep attending Relay For Life moments and love every moment of being part of such a strong community. Donate to my personal page. Join our team. Start to learn more. Most importantly, similar to what Nike says, Just do something.


Member Publicity Committee

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