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6 April 2013

Relay For Life brings awareness, unity

Cayla Nimmo // Photo Editor

Sophomore Alexa Dowell poses with a photo of her mom and her. Cayla Nimmo // Photo Editor

Sophomore Alexa Dowell did not expect to get so involved in her sorority and hold a board position just a year after joining Delta Gamma. She’s glad she did, though.

“I’ve learned how to be a positive leader among peers, while also improving my communication skills,” she said.

In addition to serving as DG vice president for member education, Dowell, 20, is captain of the Delta Gamma-Sigma Chi team for Relay For Life – a cause that she’s passionate about.

The annual event, which benefits the American Cancer Society, is coming up on Saturday.

Each Relay team must have one member walking at all times. This rule is symbolic of the phrase, “Cancer never sleeps.”

Hailing from West Lafayette, Ind., Dowell is a sports administration and public relations double major who started volunteering for Relay For Life in high school.

“I wanted to get involved in something and help a good cause,” she said.

But just a week after the Relay of her senior year, Dowell learned that her mother had been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.

Dowell and her sisters decided to continue participating in Relay For Life as a way to support each other and help the cause.

Last year as a UM freshman, Dowell’s team in the Relay exceeded its goal of raising $2,000.

But she was not able to attend the event because her mother, Trish, 45, lost her battle with cancer the day before.

“My mom was one of the most positive people I have ever known. She was a fighter, too,” Dowell said. “Even though the only news we got was bad news, she remained positive the entire time and wanted life to continue as normal as possible.”

When Dowell flew home to be with her family, her friends stepped up to the plate at UM’s Relay For Life. Dayna James, another sophomore in DG, was one of the team members who helped fill in for Dowell.

“Alexa is one of the most dedicated people I know,” she said. “Whether it be to her family, work ethic or contribution to Delta Gamma, she continues to inspire me and most of the people who have the pleasure of getting to know her every day.”

Relay For Life is an event that Dowell holds near to her heart, James said.

“Even when she was unable to be here last year, she was still as involved as any student could have been,” she said.

Senior Katie Wanner also participated in UM’s Relay last year. She said it was a memorable experience.

“It was so empowering to see the amount of people who showed up to celebrate lives, hear survivor stories and prove that when everyone comes together, we have an extraordinary amount of strength to fight against the horrible disease,” Wanner said.

Relay For Life is the biggest fundraising event for the American Cancer Society.

It was started in Tacoma, Wash., in 1986 and has spread around the country. A Relay has been held at UM since 2002. This year, it will take place from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday at the Green.

James said she is looking forward to participating again.

“Seeing our university come together for such a great cause on the day of Relay For Life last year was one of the most inspirational feelings I have ever experienced,” she said. “Everyone has in some way or another been affected by cancer, and walking every minute of the day at the Relay opened my eyes to how much many students here have truly been through.”

With this year’s event around the corner, Dowell said she has mixed feelings.

“Hearing my mom’s name read on the list of those we have lost to cancer will certainly be more emotional,” Dowell said. “However, I am using this emotion to motivate myself. Knowing I am doing Relay For Life in memory of my mom is only giving me more strength to help fight this awful disease.”