The Relay for Life is an event that unites 4 million people in 21 different countries in common cause against a disease that has spread like a cancer through the human race in recent decades: Cancer. Teams gain sponsors and then walk for a full 24 hours, earning money based on how many laps they complete, money that funds research for cancer treatments, but the Relay also raises awareness and gives people who have lost loved ones to cancer to take tangible action against the disease. And for one team of freshmen, it offered even more- a chance to experience sweet, sweet victory.
Soto resident Steve Mackelroy first heard about the Relay a month and a half ago at his dorm’s weekly meeting. “Some people came in to tell us all about it and I thought whoah, a month and a half? That’s not a lot of time to train. But I was, you know, a pretty big track and field star in high school, so I knew I was up to the task. Anyway,” confided Mackelroy, “those chicks telling us about it didn’t look like serious competition at all. Maybe it was the rally gear- green spandex and feathered boas- but they didn’t seem like the kind of high-caliber athlete I used to compete against.”
Mackelroy searched his dorm for teammates he felt could keep up with him, to no avail. So he broadened his search to all of Stern, and then even to the Wilbur dorms. Finally he had his relay team. Thomas Williams, a record-holding cross-country runner, Burt Tanner, who described himself as “the fastest darn runner in Mississippi!” and Awiti, an international student from west Africa. “We trained like madmen for the weeks leading up to the Relay,” Mackelroy told reporters. “When the day came, we were more than ready.”
True to his word, Mackelroy and his band of ultra-competitive athletes took the other Relay participants totally by surprise. “At first we liked their intensity, all that energy…” Said organizer Mel Crampton. “But then things got out of hand…” Steve led the charge, sprinting the first 24 laps before handing a baton off to Tanner. One of the four runners was active at every minute of all 24 hours. In all, Mackelroy’s team covered the distance of several marathons. Ten hours into the Relay, Williams dropped from exhaustion. As he was lifted into an ambulance for a trip to the hospital, Mackelroy knelt by his body and swore to finish the relay in his name, shaking his fists at the stars and cursing cruel fate.
“They were kind of disruptive,” explained another runner, Sue Santerini. Reports are circulating that Mackelroy’s team, carried away by the spirit of competition, shouted putdowns and physically intimidated other participants as they dashed around the track. “He told me if I can’t handle the heat, I shouldn’t be in the kitchen,” recalled Santorini. “They were really mean.”
Organizers agreed with Santorini’s assessment, but conceded, “They were just so incredible, we felt they had to be rewarded. We don’t normally do this, but we went out and bought some trophies to give them. They earned it.” When asked how much money they had raised in the fight against cancer, Mackelroy responded, “Money? I don’t- what’s cancer got to do with it?”