In the late afternoon of Friday, April 4 there was a light sprinkle of rain outside of Haas Athletic Center as friendly faces greeted my teammates and I. Wearing matching blue t-shirts, the Relay for Life 2014 Walk for Cancer committee were so enthusiastic to see Mac Attack in our purple, hand-made shirts from Michael’s, which effectively reflected the group’s energy. It was inspiring to see the large number of Wheaton volunteer students placing this kind of effort into something that has touched countless lives. Walking for ten hours meant even more knowing how much time and money was invested in holding the event. But while the passion from the volunteers was evident, the enthusiasm produced by the general Wheaton student population was lack-luster.
Along the track, teams were sparsely laid out, creating a half dome of eagerness for an incredible cause that deserved to have an entire track encircled. What was most disappointing was how many teams actually participated in the walk. Out of the 11 teams, only six stayed past 9 p.m., which dwindled to four by 11:30 p.m. The event was supposed to end at 3 a.m., but so few people stayed that the volunteers were forced to end early. Many people didn’t show up at all. According to one volunteer, “we’re expecting around 130 people, and right now [8:30 p.m.] we have anywhere from 60-75 student representatives from Wheaton”.
Simply raising money for a cause does not raise awareness. Comedian Daniel Tosh in the stand-up “Completely Serious” jokes, “I hope we find a cure for every major disease, because I’m tired of walking 5K. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to sweat for cancer. I’ll write a check”. While I’m used to the insensitivity of Daniel Tosh as a comedian, I did not expect the same from Wheaton students. I was shocked by the almost forced presence of my fellow undergrads and was embarrassed by their apathetic and unresponsive behavior. Perhaps raising the money proves the more beneficial aspect of a donation walk, hence its name. But the symbolism and monumental effect of walking for an extensive period of time for the sake of an important cause speaks volumes about the devotion and commitment to what one is asked to donate to.
As someone who has lost three family members to brain cancer, I was devastated and insulted by how uninvolved students were in the walk. A fellow walker told me “this was nothing like last year’s. Last year, there were 140 volunteers from Wheaton alone, and the track was covered with tents…” Where were the 130 people promised? And specifically, why did those who came leave so early? The purpose of the event was to walk for 12 hours in Haas to raise money and awareness for cancer, and participate in events held by the Relay for Life volunteers who devoted so much time and effort to hold an excellent and truly empowering event. Additionally, I was empathetically uncomfortable for the volunteers. They did a wonderful job at creating activities to keep those walking engaged and having fun throughout the night. When people were leaving in waves before midnight, my teammates and I felt more obliged than before to partake in the activities.
Sitting with smudges of purple from the Tie-Dye station covering my hands, I remarked on how I felt this lack of participation was from other teams and non-existent ones. My teammates, and some of the volunteers, agreed. The end of the event was marked with a closing ceremony where the volunteers thanked the very few of us who were left, and handed out prizes to the remaining involved teams. The prizes were small, however one could see the appreciation oozing from their faces as they handed out the only gifts they could afford. They deserved the recognition for putting on such a fun and fulfilling event for an admirable cause. We thanked them, packed our things, and left the Athletic Center feeling tired yet purposeful, crossing our fingers that next year Relay for Life attendance proves greater and with twice the spirit of this year’s.