Yesterday, at 6:30 in the morning, I woke up, eagerly gathered my bags, and headed out for the camping trip of a lifetime. It was filled with grizzly bears, raging rivers, and the entire time we were in the middle of a giant forest. There were also flying penguins, apocalyptic meteors, and Abraham Lincoln cursing in Spanish. In reality, it was on the track of my old middle school, two minutes away from my home, and shared with countless other "campers" participating in Relay for Life. I haven't mentioned it on this blog, but for the past two months I have been fundraising on my own and as a part of my Key Club in preparation for this event. For those who don't know, Relay for Life is an event in which "teams" play games, share information about cancer, and constantly walk the track for 24 hours, symbolizing how cancer never sleeps.
I arrived slightly before 7 am, and helped set up and decorate our campsite. More of our team began filtering in, and we cheered on the cancer survivors as they took the first lap. After a quick debriefing I began walking the track, adding a bead onto my necklace for every lap I completed. For the rest of the day, I helped run games of bingo and tanned as I walked lap after sweltering lap. After hours of repetitive cover bands, we gathered to watch a couple of our classmates take the stage and perform for us. As the sun began to go down, we lit luminarias, small paper bags filled with sand and a candle and inscribed with messages of love and support. They lined the inside perimeter of the track, and were arranged on the bleachers to make a heart and spell out "hope". As it got darker, the luminarias illuminated the track, glowing and beautiful.
It grew cool quickly, but I kept warm with a light jacket and continuous walking. Every few laps I would stop to rest, and we would talk and play games and relax as the night wore on. My feet began to ache constantly, but I plodded on, intent on walking twenty miles before the night was out. Later, while walking in a group, a man ran past us, and only after a few moments did it dawn on us that he was naked. Fortunately, one of our amazing chaperones was a police officer, and our streaker was quickly apprehended. However, we all remained somewhat nervous, and the situation only grew more eerie as we saw a man on a motorbike, a suspicious man lurking by the entrance, and heard one of our teammates scream (it turned out she was only attempting to wake someone up). Finally, the campsite quieted down, and we walked on. Two extremely sore legs later, I reached my goal, and walked a few more laps for good measure. Exhausted, I retired to bed at about 4 am.
An hour and a half later, I woke up, damp and freezing, put on my glasses, and shuffled out of my tent, still in my sleeping bag. I sat down with my teammates, shivering violently, and was apparently very pale. Since my only other option was to "just stop shivering (and die)", I curled into a ball at the bottom of my sleeping bag and waited for body heat to kick in. Eventually, my teeth stopped chattering and my toes began to thaw, so I arose and helped with cleanup. We walked as a team in the final lap, signed thank-you cards for the chaperones, and settled down to wait to be picked up. My dad finally came, and I said my goodbyes, loaded up the car, went home, and promptly passed out for a good seven hours.
In the end, I personally raised over $200 for cancer research, and as a group we raised over $2700. I walked 89 laps (22.25 miles), the furthest I have ever walked at once, and despite the soreness and pain, I am honored to have walked it because every step I took was a step a victim cancer will never get to. I walked for them. We celebrated, we remembered, and we fought back. Cancer won't sleep, but neither will we, and I am proud.