Participants in the Pius XI High School Relay for Life create a blur as they circle the Pius XI fieldhouse on Friday evening, May 14. The 24-hour event was part of a national fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. For some participants, their efforts were personal as they walked or ran in support of or in memory of a loved one afflicted with cancer. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)

MILWAUKEE — A recent fundraiser at Pius XI High School benefiting cancer research held special meaning for senior Kelsey Meinerz.

The recent graduate, who helped spearhead the school’s participation in Relay for Life, a 24-hour event that came to fruition with oversight by the American Cancer Society, has been personally affected by cancer – her father, a two-time survivor, has battled prostate cancer and is currently in remission.

“I’ve really been grateful for this, and for the opportunity to be a part of something so meaningful,” Meinerz said. “It’s wonderful to see how the money can go toward finding new ways of fighting the disease.”

Relay for Life, which started in Washington, is designed to not only give participants an opportunity to celebrate cancer survival, but remember those who lost their battle. Teams camp out at the participating school and take turns walking or running around a track or path. In a representation of how cancer never stops, the event runs overnight and lasts 24 hours.

“It’s meant to be symbolic of a cancer survivor’s journey through the disease,” said Katie Fare, a liaison with the American Cancer Society overseeing youth programs.

The American Cancer Society will accept donations for Pius XI’s 2010 Relay for Life program through Aug. 31.
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The program works in three stages, similar to what a person with cancer faces. The first stage involves celebrating recovery, the second stage remembers those who lost their lives and the third stage entails fighting back in any way possible to curtail the effects of the disease.
Pius XI was one of nine high schools in Southeastern Wisconsin to participate in Relay for Life, currently in its 26th year. It was also the first year Pius XI has taken part in the initiative, held May 14 and 15 at the high school.

Final dollar figures are still being tallied, but Meinerz said more than $16,000 was raised when the two-day program wrapped up earlier this month.

Fare said she was amazed by the support the Pius XI community gave toward Relay for Life, considering it was in its inaugural year at the high school. Approximately 216 people, including 175 students, signed up to take part in the event.

Pius was the only one of the nine local high schools to have someone walking or running the track nonstop during the 24-hour period. Fare said it can be challenging for some schools because people tend to get tired during the overnight hours.

Looking at what transpired, Michael Coffey, Pius XI’s faith formation director, said Relay for Life was a positive addition to the other service-learning initiatives undertaken each year.

“The event was imbued with such a joyful and generous spirit,” Coffey said. “It affirmed and built up the community here.”

Though she has graduated, Meinerz said she would like to assist in the future. Plans call for bringing Relay for Life back to the high school in 2011.

Meinerz said coordinating the event was the capstone to a positive four-year experience.

“This has really taught me a lot about leadership skills,” Meinerz said. “I appreciate everyone’s assistance. It’s helped me to see how much support I really have from my classmates here at Pius and all of the families.”