Relay at Rowan: Senior duo leads University-wide effort to raise $70K to fight cancer

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Led by two dynamic seniors, 1,000 Rowan students will look to raise $70,000 for the American Cancer Society during the University's ninth annual Relay for Life event.

Sami Musumeci and Julia England don’t look alike. They don’t act alike. They don’t talk alike.

But when the topic is Relay for Life, an annual rite of spring at Rowan University, Musumeci and England absolutely think alike.

And right now, the dynamic seniors are thinking about numbers. Big numbers: 90 teams. 1,000 students. $70,000.

Those are their ambitious goals as Musumeci and England co-chair Rowan’s ninth annual Relay for Life on Friday and Saturday, April 12-13. An all-night fundraiser in Rowan’s Rec Center, Relay for Life benefits the American Cancer Society. During Relay, Rowan students walk on the Rec Center track for 12 straight hours to raise funds to fight cancer. The event will run from 6 p.m. on Friday until 6 a.m. on Saturday.

In the past nine years, Rowan students have raised more than $250,000 through Relay.

That’s a phenomenal figure. But Musumeci and England believe Rowan students have the gumption—and the heart—to achieve even more to battle cancer, a disease, they say, that affects everyone.

“In my head, I keep forming a collection reasons why I Relay. And I hate it,” says England, an elementary education and math and science/liberal studies major from Tabernacle who says she was born to teach special education.

“Everyone is affected by cancer. Everyone. It could be your father, your mother, you, your children. It could be anyone you love. It’s our responsibility to do something.”

“Students can do amazing things when they put their minds to it,” adds Musumeci. A biological sciences and Honors major from West Windsor, Musumeci is a gifted researcher who is headed for medical school. Just this semester, she viewed the famed HeLa cancer cells during a cell culture technology course at the Coriell Institute for Medical Research.

“It’s definitely been very eye-opening for me to be in science and see the true science behind cancer…and then to be involved in Relay and see the personal side of it,” adds Musumeci, president of Rowan’s Colleges Against Cancer.

 “We put our goal way up there,” England continues. “But last year our goal was $55,000 and we raised $63,000. So…”

So…don’t count $70,000—or even $75,000—out when Musumeci and England are in charge. Andrew Perrone, assistant director of Service Learning, Volunteerism and Community Engagement, has seen firsthand what the pair, through leadership, hard work, and sheer pluck, can accomplish.

Passion…and persistence

In the two years that the two have co-chaired Relay, fundraising, the number of teams, the number of committee leadership positions, and participation by students, faculty/staff/administrators and cancer survivors all have increased dramatically, Perrone says. He attributes that to the can-do attitudes of Musumeci and England. They exude passion—and persistence, he says.

When they took over as co-chairs of Relay, the committee was comprised of a half-dozen students. Today, more than 50 active students help to plan Relay and are taking important leadership roles, even as freshmen, says Perrone.

“Freshmen and sophomores come to me and say they want to be the next Sami and Julia,” says Perrone. “They have made this a position that others aspire to. People want to step into their shoes.
 
“I’ve been blown back by how ambitious they are with their goals. But never once do I think, ‘We’re not going to get there.’ When they tell me their goal, I’ve always thought, ‘Wow. OK. Go get ‘em.’ They don’t set easy goals. They beat the streets. They make every connection they can. They keep hustling. And they find ways to engage students.”

They’ve engaged faculty and staff, too. For the second year, Rowan President Ali Houshmand is joining Relay and has his own team, Houshmand’s Heroes.

ReLei for Life

Relay this year will have a Hawaiian theme and has been re-dubbed ReLei for Life. The Relay committee is planning a host of fun activities—from a hula hoop contest to a pudding eating contest to limbo to a cross-dressing “Miss Relay” lap with men in bikinis and grass skirts—to keep students up and moving during the evening.

Though the night is sometimes silly, students never lose fact of the profound toll cancer can take on cancer victims, their family members and friends, says England. At 11 o’clock on Friday evening during Relay, students will silently honor those loved ones and friends they know who have had cancer with a luminaria ceremony.

Traditionally, Relay ends with a 6 a.m. victory walk. Last year, students walked arm in arm around the track as Queen’s “We are the Champions” blared from the speakers. England, who has Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, an extraordinarily painful nerve condition, was in a wheelchair for that last lap.

This year, after a year of rehabilitation pushing her body to walk again, she will confidently walk that final lap, most likely arm in arm with Musumeci and other members of the Relay committee.

That thrills Musumeci as much as it does England.

“That’s one of the things,” Musumeci says with a smile, “that I’m most excited about.”

“Relay has been one of the best blessings for me,” says England. “It’s helped me think about what’s important. Relay kept me in check when things were going badly

“I have no intention of ever being in a wheelchair again,” she continues. “Relay has taught me about what it is to live. It’s been one of my most profound college experiences.”

For more on Rowan’s Relay for Life, visit http://www.rowan.edu/open/studentaffairs2/servicelearning/relay.html.

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