IB for a Cure: Sturgis Relay for Life 2012 (Summer 2012)

Sturgis Charter Public School
Relay for Life Team
Photo by Al Martin

Relay For Life is an American Cancer Society fundraiser and 24-hour relay-style camp-out and walk held around the nation. Teams form from all types of organizations and groups: banks, medical families, friends and family rallying for a friend battling cancer or in honor of someone lost to cancer, and youth groups. Participants are asked to raise a minimum of $100 and pay a $10 registration fee that covers a t-shirt and the cost to “house” a person overnight at the campsite. The event itself is similar to a carnival and flea market; each hour boasts an activity, contest, or ceremony, and teams run on-site fundraisers of food items, crafts, and accessories. During the 24 hours, one person from each team must remain walking on the track. 

By Alicia Watts, English, Sturgis East

It’s 2010 and I am sitting in the faculty lounge when I overhear two teachers talking about the need for a Relay For Life captain at Sturgis. It’s been seven years since the thought of Relay has even crossed my mind. And even then it was in the capacity of a participant, a Sturgis senior in need of community service to fulfill what is now known as CAS. So seven years later, now a teacher in her second year at her old high school, I know I am in the right place at the right time. Sturgis had just lost a colleague and I had lost a friend and mentor in Gretchen Buntschuh, who lost her short battle with pancreatic cancer that winter. The wound is fresh and the desire to keep her memory alive is overflowing.

Brightly Colored Shoes
Photo Courtesy of Barnstable Patriot

Our first year was entirely experimental in nature. We had three months before the event to assemble a team. Yet with very little advertising, a team of about fifteen students became the second Sturgis Relay For Life team since the school’s opening. I was buoyed up by the spirit of the sophomores, who comprised most of the team and were ready for the challenge of meeting a short deadline. We rallied around the loss of Mrs.Gretchen Buntschuh, whose last name means “brightly colored shoe” in German, deciding almost immediately to make bright shoes our calling card.

Although I do not remember the exact amount, our funds raised during the three months inspire us. If we could raise $700 in three months, imagine what we could do if we had an entire school year to work as a team.

September 2010 hits and we are rolling. Emily Morin, class of 2012, steps forward as a co-captain and her enthusiasm is contagious as we recruit even more students than the previous year. That year we tried several fundraisers: “Hats On for Cancer,” a day in which students and faculty pay to wear a hat at school; “Tape a Teacher to the Wall,” a lunch period in which students pay to duct tape their favorite teacher to the wall and watch him dangle; and “Guess Who?” an on-going guessing game of faculty baby pictures in which students paid to guess and win a prize for guessing correctly. By the 2010 Relay, we have raised $3500, and win the best campsite decorations award after repurposing prom decorations.

Sno Cone Stand

My involvement in Relay becomes more extensive in other ways in the fall of 2011 when I am invited to be on the planning committee of our “Mid-Cape Relay.” Thrilled by the invitation, I hand captaining responsibilities to Emily and Jessica Pearson, also class of 2012, and put my energy into the volunteer position. A little apprehensive, I pop in some lunchtime meetings held by the co-captains and am relieved to see collaboration and results. Students are now paying “dues” of $10 per month to make sure they meet their $100 goal by the end of the year. The commitment, as a result, seems much stronger and the team grows in numbers and merit. In the Spring, senior Lizz Cameron does a polar plunge, raising well over $100. Tape a Teacher brings in $125 for the team. A Mega Sale raises over $50 in used book sales. And every student is learning the value of an old-fashioned hallway bake sale. Additionally, Mrs. Prygocki, parent and survivor, provides the team with “survivor” bracelets, anklets, and key chains, made by her son of cord meant to help one survive in the wilderness (see picture). And perhaps the most lucrative fundraising prop is a sno-cone machine, which pays for itself at the Relay event (see photo).

Sturgis Relay for Life Team
Photo Courtesy of Barnstable Patriot

Although team spirits are high, mine are low. I am apprehensive about the dedication of the graduating seniors, who no longer need CAS and would graduate and be on to bigger and better things by the time Relay hit on June 15. The sophomores who had started the team and who were the majority are all grown up now and I’m not sure who would show on the big day. In part, my fears are right; those who raise nothing fail the CAS activity, those who haven’t raised enough drop off the team, and of those who raise enough, some are unable to make the walk because of work schedule conflicts and family vacation plans. However, all my feelings of loss wash away when I see the team arrive on June 15.

Emily and Jessica arrive, ready to delegate. Jack Enos, Hazel Fargher, and Kyra Dauwalder, three of the inaugural class, arrive ready to walk. Juniors Olivia Sequin, our highest student fundraiser, and Devin Low, our longest student walker, return again. And we have recruited senior Sarah Knittle, juniors Mary Pawlusiak, and Jessica Bowse (the latter of whom have both stepped up as 2013 co-captains). Five freshmen and sophomores from Sturgis West led by Ms. Amanda Lennox round out our team. The tents pop up, the 2012 prom decorations snap into place, our banners “I.B. for a Cure” and “Atlantis” (the name of our campsite theme) hang with pride. And then we walk. And walk. And walk.

It’s hard to explain the magic of Relay and how much it means to me to see my team in action. They have flown the nest and don’t need a faculty leader anymore. I have pointed them in the direction of a rewarding community service activity and they do the rest. When the lights dim for the night, we sit as we always do until the wee hours of the morning playing games (some sillier than others) talking, and laughing together. For one night, we are all off the clock; not students and a teacher, but friends rallying together to fight the good fight. Our mantra for those delirious late night chats: what happens at Relay stays at Relay.

Devin and Emily with lap counters.
Each bead = 1 lap. Four beads = 1 mile.

Sturgis’s spirit is what defines our team. Nick Borowski, who is not a team member this year, volunteers his time to tape “Why Do You Relay?” video footage. Emily leads a late night game of ships and sailors to the delight of about 50 Relay youth participants. Kyra constructs a dazzling cardboard yellow submarine, then sports it and wins the vehicle contest. Jack dresses in drag (all at the urging of the mostly female team, of course) and wins the Mz. Relay contest. We dance zumba, participate in a flash mob, and stay with only two other teams until the very end of the event.

Devin and Emily with lap counters.
Each bead = 1 lap. Four beads = 1 mile.

At 4 am you will find Emily and Devin delirious with tiredness walking and laughing. Devin walks in his trademark bare feet and will have walked the length of a marathon by the end of the event. Emily will not sleep for the 24 hours and will have walked 20 miles. Ms. Lennox will try and fail to sleep through our late night giggles and will walk over 20 miles, keeping her West students company, who each walk around 20 miles or more.

The next morning Sarah Knittle will sell raffle tickets to the tune of “Call Me Baby” (“Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but by a raffle ticket, and don’t say maybe!”) in a scramble to reach a last minute goal of $5,000. And the whole team will push, push, push those sno-cones until we make it to $5,004. We will run, yes run, to the officials with minutes til deadline, and collect our “Gold” plaque to display on our campsite.

It’s 2:30 pm twenty-three hours into Relay and only four team members remain: Emily, Jack, Kyra, and Devin. Emily and Devin motivate each other to reach incredible goals. Jack, Kyra, and I sit and wait for the announcement that we want to hear: the Spirit Award. Yes, we have overreached our fundraising goal by $1,500, but somehow that’s not enough for a team that is always striving for more. But the fairy tale ending never comes. We’ve lost the award to a team that hadn’t already won in other ways. Yet we have somehow gained something much more important: camaraderie. We are united around the common desire to eradicate the world of cancer and our symbolic 24-hour walk raises awareness that cancer never sleeps and gives funds to those who need it most.

So why do I relay? I relay as an educator to introduce a community service activity that I hope my kids will carry into adulthood, as I have. I relay as a friend to share a bond with like-minded people, people I hope will never be too far away. I relay as a person because relaying in memory of one, like Gretchen Buntschuh, is one too many.

Cheers for Relay for Life Team

As we exchange hugs in the parking lot and I wish my three inaugural class participants the best of luck next year, a spark of hope glimmers. Let’s start an alumni and Sturgis community team next year, someone suggests. I smile, realizing this includes me.

Reflection by Kyra Dauwalder, Class of 2012


Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune– without the words,

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

-Emily Dickinson

After reading this, one of my favorite poems, I figured out what to say. I do Relay for Life for a few reasons. I do it to support my closest uncle who’s in California and a survivor of throat cancer. He became mute after surgery and it was very painful and difficult for him to adjust. Since he’s so far away, Relay for Life and learning Sign Language are my ways of supporting him (along with donating money to help with his rent since he couldn’t work for a while after surgery.) I also do it for my friends whose parents are survivors or were killed by cancer. When I look into their eyes I can see how important this is to them, and through them it intensifies the meaning for me. Lastly, and I hate to even make this comparison because I know I don’t have it bad at all, I do Relay because when I was first trying to find a diagnosis for me and cancer was a possibility, hope and support was undoubtedly what helped me stay optimistic and to this day keeps me positive. I hate when people actually try to express concern with words or call direct attention to me. Instead, I prefer the silent motivations: always making sure I have salt tablets, being willing to drive me up to Boston and back for appointments, a hand to help pull me up after falling, teachers staying after school to help me catch up without asking where I was. The silent actions with no verbal recognition for some reason comfort me. Walking is the same type of support. The hours of walking and the soreness in your muscles are silent actions that shout louder than any voice of support for those who need it, helping them achieve hope and the ability to keep moving. I believe that hope can’t get rid of cancer, but it can save a life.

Consider contributing to the 2013 Sturgis Relay For Life team. Survival bracelets, anklets, and key chains are made in any color combination; special orders are accepted! The military grade Paracord can be unwound in a sticky survival situation. Support cancer survivors with a purchase! Bracelets and anklets $8. Key chains $5.  This is a steal – the same bracelets with brand name logo and fancy clasp sell on the Bass Pro Shops website for $39.99 (see photo image)!

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