17th annual Relay for Life sees growth in participation, fundraising


Today (Sunday), UW and St. Jerome’s University will host the 17th annual Relay for Life event, a walkathon fundraiser that works in 30 countries worldwide. The organization’s Canadian branch is dedicated to fundraising for the Canadian Cancer Society, supporting research as well as support services for current patients and survivors. 

Tina Nguyen, one of this year’s Relay for Life’s co-chairs. Courtesy Tina Nguyen

Tina Nguyen, a fourth year global business and digital arts student, is one of two co-chairs, and focuses on the “front end of things,” which includes recruitment and fundraising from event participants. Relay for Life’s other co-chair is Sanam Patel, who focuses on the event experience.

This year marks Nguyen’s seventh with Relay for Life, and her fourth at UW. She explained that the loss of her father to cancer 14 years ago was what pushed her to get involved with Relay for Life in high school, which continued into university.

This year’s Relay for Life will feature roughly 115 participants, a number up from previous years’ ranging from 50 to 75 participants. 

Sanam Patel, one of Relay for Life’s co-chairs. Courtesy Tina Nguyen

Nguyen attributed the growth to people simply “hoping to get back into the swing of things” after COVID-19 lockdowns, and to a change in the time that the walkathon is hosted, which typically takes place overnight to “symbolize how the fight against cancer never stops, so neither will we.” 

“Typically Relay for Life is an overnight event, particularly around 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. is when a lot of events happen… so we’re kind of modifying to adjust to what we think suits the needs of our students, especially in Waterloo,” Nguyen said. This year’s event takes place from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

According to Nguyen, over the past 17 years, UW and SJU have collectively raised $322,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society (not accounting for this year’s contribution).

Nguyen said that funding is also rising from pre-COVID-19 levels, and that their fundraising goals were following those trends. “Pre-COVID, we would raise around $35,000 to $45,000 a year and so this year, our goal is $20,000 to slowly bring that up,” she said, explaining that right after COVID, funding was sitting around $10,000 to $15,000. So far, Relay has raised $9,000, though Nguyen added that with online fundraising and registration fees, the amount is likely around $11,000.

She expressed excitement about the increase in participation, something especially notable due to her long time with the organization which allowed her to witness the difficulties Relay faced during COVID-19. “It’s really great to see, like the Waterloo community and just students in general being excited, again, to be involved with things on campus that are for a good cause.”

Relay for Life’s UW chapter has also been working towards becoming an official WUSA club, something Nguyen says experienced a bit of delay due to communication issues with WUSA – transitions within staff created difficulty in knowing who to contact. 

Nguyen acknowledged that the event carries certain inherent challenges, particularly that of asking students to donate knowing that they may not have the resources to do so. “But really, Relay for Life is all about connecting community and reaching out to people within your networks or family, friends, coworkers, things like that, to support you in this great cause,” she said.