Relay for Life: A Time of Love, Light and Reflection

Photo Courtesy of Alyssa Sciarrone
The Luminaria Ceremony, a time for reflection on loved ones lost to cancer and those still battling the disease.

After a rainy morning in New Paltz, the weather finally let up and allowed for students to gather on the North Turf for the Relay for Life walkathon. 

The SUNY New Paltz Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) hosted the event on Saturday Sept. 30. Relay for Life raises money and awareness for the American Cancer Society (ACS), the largest nonprofit organization funding cancer research. 

“The American Cancer Society itself has so many resources for survivors, caregivers and people still battling it,” said Madison Mullman, fourth-year guard/forward for New Paltz women’s basketball and president of SAAC. 

The day began with an opening ceremony where Mullman shared a few words of gratitude to those who attended and rewarding the athletes and teams that raised the most money. As of Saturday, New Paltz raised $8,730.40 for ACS. 

Athletic teams and Greek life committed to raising funds for the cause and turned out for the event. The New Paltz softball team raised the most money coming in at $3,089. $2,067 of that sum was raised by Jillian Shelbourne, fourth-year infielder on the softball team and vice president of SAAC.

Following the opening ceremony, the walkathon began at 12:30 p.m. and would continue into the night, coming to a close at midnight.

“It’s supposed to be a 24 hour walkathon, but because we’re on campus, we’re only doing 12 hours,” said Shelbourne. “So, it’s supposed to be all day and all night to represent that you never stop fighting cancer and that cancer is always around. The people who have it struggle with it 24/7.”

In Mullman’s opening speech, she reminded the crowd of this by saying, “The light and darkness of the day and night parallel what many cancer patients and their loved ones feel from the time of their diagnosis, through their treatment and throughout their entire cancer journey.”

The traditional first lap is for survivors and caregivers. Walking this lap was the Cooney family. Erin Cooney is a fourth-year forward on the women’s basketball team. Erin Cooney, her family and members of her team walked with her mother, Judi Cooney, a cancer survivor. 

Judi Cooney battled cancer throughout 2020 and 2021 and is now cancer free, celebrating her win with her daughter. “I think [moments like this] make all the hard times feel not as important,” said Erin Cooney. “When you feel like you can come together and realize we are all in this fight together and that we can do anything when we have each other.”

The potential of seeing Relay for Life become a tradition at New Paltz is one that the Cooney’s would like to happen and come back to show their support. “It makes people aware,” said Judi Cooney. “Everybody has cancer somewhere along the line, someone in their family, friends and just to be aware of it and to support each other is the best.”

As they walked, everyone lined the track, clapping and cheering to show their support and remind the Cooney family of the community they have backing them.

Throughout the day, those who attended walked side-by-side on the track and played various lawn games on the field. The sorority Alpha Kappa Phi had a paint-your-own flower pot stand which, according to Mullman, was a huge success. 

At 7 p.m. the Luminaria Ceremony began. In honor of those who have lost their battles and those who have survived the journey, the Luminaria Ceremony is a time for reflection. People participating in the walkathon decorated paper luminaria bags, put candles inside and placed them around the track.

“It’ll light the whole track,” said Shelbourne, “it’s supposed to be a tunnel of light for hope.” Everyone then participates in the glow lap of silent reflection before the night continues on.

After the full 12 hours of festivities, Mullman shared, “I am so grateful that we started the event this year and brought it to campus. I want to thank Coach Vite, Coach Giufre and Monica D’Ippolito for all their help in getting our vision to reality for the day.”