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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 5, 2010

Relay for Life this weekend at UH


By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Polly Massaro

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There will be students and athletes and a relay on the Clarence T. C. Ching Athletics Complex track from 6 p.m. Saturday until 6 a.m. Sunday, but the 12 hours will be more about survival than competition.

The fifth University of Hawai'i Relay for Life is part of an international movement that started 25 years ago and has raised more than $2 billion for the American Cancer Society. UH's goal this year is to raise $40,000. It has more than 70 teams signed up and hopes for more than 500 participants, including at least 30 survivors.

That last number, and the search for a cure, is what it is all about. It is hard to imagine anyone not touched by cancer and all those involved next weekend probably have a story that will bring them and others to tears.

Polly Massaro, a junior from New Jersey and a member of the UH sailing team, is co-chairing the relay for the second year. Half a lifetime ago, she lost both grandmothers to cancer within a year. Her losses have mounted since.

"The 12 hours we spend help us imagine the struggle that people living with a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment must face every day," Massaro said. "The idea is that even though we go one night without sleep, cancer never sleeps."

Some names on the track will be familiar Brittany Hewitt (volleyball), Jett Jasper (football) and Megan Tinnin (basketball) but most will not. Ryan Safahi set a goal of raising $1,200 and is zeroing in. Participants from the Department of Public Health, fraternities, sororities, the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work and cheerleading will be there.

For Rainbow Wahine basketball, the relay is near and far too dear. Tinnin withdrew from school in the fall when her mother was diagnosed with cancer and died within a short time. The team's leading returning scorer red-shirted her senior season and plans to finish her career next season. This will be her first Relay for Life, but probably not her last.

"When you see people go through stuff such as cancer you realize how much it does mean to give back and to help," said Tinnin, who organized basketball's participants. "Even if it is just a little bit of your time it actually does a lot of good.

"I thought it would be a good thing for the team to do for me because of what I went through and it's a good way to give back in a different way."

First-year Rainbow Wahine basketball coach Dana Takahara-Dias has her team participate in monthly community service. Among other things, players cleaned a taro patch, painted parking lines at Kapi'olani Park and inspired a devoted, and extremely mature, following at Leahi Nursing Hospital after introducing them to basketball aerobics.

Next weekend's 12-hour marathon will add to the team's diversity. Relay for Life is designed to "celebrate the lives of people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost and fight back against the disease." Teams camp out at the field overnight and take turns running and walking.

The relay starts with the Survivors Lap to "celebrate" victories over cancer. Participants will decorate 1,200 luminaria and candles will be lit inside each one after dark to "remember" a person lost or touched by cancer. The event culminates in a Fight Back Ceremony in which participants pledge to keep up the fight against cancer. There is also a silent auction and games.

"The priorities at the Relay For Life are not only to fundraise for the American Cancer Society but to fulfill the mission to defeat cancer," Massaro said. "Most importantly, to celebrate life and those currently fighting their battles, remember those that have lost their battle, and fight back through supporting research, taking steps to live healthier and get annual screenings."

Last year every UH team fielded a squad. The event is open to all students, alumni, faculty and anyone in the community. To sign up or support UH's Relay for Life, visit RelayUH.com.

Or just come watch, for a few minutes or hours.

"You will see," Tinnin promises, "how much 12 hours can really mean to a lot of people."