The luminary ceremony of Relay For Life is many participants’ favorite part. Sophomore Katherine Brinkley said she eagerly anticipated walking in the lights with others who had lost people close to them.
“I think the best part of every year’s Relay For Life is the luminary ceremony,” said Darrin Benjumea, co-director of Relay For Life of UNC. “Basically we just light all the candles in the bags and turn off the lights. It’s very touching and moving.”
Relay For Life started Friday evening with opening speaker Rashawn King talking about his experience being diagnosed with cancer as a high school athlete.
“I realized something wasn’t right with my body. My vision started getting real blurry, I couldn’t breathe very well, my face was beginning to swell up,” he said.
Now a junior at North Carolina Central University and cancer-free, Rashawn said he wanted to come back and thank the people who helped him at UNC Hospitals.
“Don’t ever give up on anything in life if you have goals and dreams,” he said.
Members of this year’s Relay For Life prepared for the event for a long time.
Tatum Barbaree, a spokeswoman for Relay For Life, said she and other committee members have worked to get ready for this event since last September.
“We have weekly meetings just planning different types of fundraisers, all this stuff leading to this big celebratory thing,” Barbaree said.
McKenzie Fielding, sub-chairwoman of the Advocacy and Luminary Committee, said preparing the luminaries themselves takes considerable time.
“We spent the week leading up to Relay making about — over 500 luminaries. So we have a big Google doc that has all the names. We have to write all the names onto stickers and put them onto bags. It takes probably a good five hours to do,” she said.
The committee’s efforts paid off. This year Relay For Life attracted approximately 131 teams, said Alexa Colasurdo, co-director of UNC’s Relay For Life.
Before the event, 1,100 participants signed up, and more people would come in and sign up during the event, Colasurdo said.
Benjumea said they had raised about $124,000 by Saturday afternoon, but more donations were still rolling in.
“$130,000 is our goal, so we’re trying to hit that,” Colasurdo said.
“In general, we’re trying to make sure that it’s a great event for the community because we have so many community members who come here. We have a child survivor team. And that’s just awesome. We just want to make it special for them.”