Penn Relay for Life: Student Is ‘All Business’ About Fundraising to End Cancer

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820February 5, 2014

Like most business-savvy freshman enrolled in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Olivia Nelson from Scotch Plains, N.J., is involved in multiple projects, in addition to her studies.

She blogs for Wharton Magazine’s Website; she’s a member of the Social Planning and Events Concerts Committee, the Wharton Ambassadors; and she sits on the Knowledge@Wharton High School Advisory Board. However, her most meaningful endeavor this semester will be pulling an “all-nighter” with a purpose.

As a member of Penn Colleges Against Cancer and its events committee, Nelson is organizing and managing events that support Penn’s Relay for Life, March 28-29.  Now in its 11th year at Penn, Relay for Life invites teams to camp out overnight and take turns walking or running around the track at Franklin Field for as long as 24 hours.

The event follows the concept that “cancer never sleeps.” In addition to the track relay, there are also other activities, ceremonies and entertainment all night long.

During the Penn Relay for Life, Nelson plans to walk approximately 20 laps around the track. That’s about five miles.

“Everyone involved is either directly related to someone with cancer or knows of someone who has been affected by cancer,” she says.  “It seems like it is only getting stronger. Our goal is to fight back by raising money and awareness.”

This year, organizers hope to raise $100,000 for the American Cancer Society.

She says her involvement in the society’s Relay for Life event dates back to high school.

In her freshman year at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, Nelson joined the Student Movement Against Cancer, one of the school’s largest clubs that was formed nearly 14 years ago, in honor of a student who was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

As a high-school senior, she served on SMAC’s executive board and experienced firsthand the amount of work that goes into planning and executing a successful Relay for Life event.

“The countless hours and effort that went into planning the Relay for Life was worth it,” says Nelson, “ to see the entire community come together in an effort to fight cancer. Last year, the Relay for Life of Scotch Plains raised $137,449, and I can’t wait to see the outcome of this year’s Relay for Life, both in my hometown and here at Penn.”

Her reasons for being so committed to the fundraiser have deep personal roots.  Many of her friends’ parents and relatives have been affected by cancer.  And closer to home, Nelson’s maternal grandparents have been fighting their own battles with the disease for more than 10 years.  Her grandmother suffers with endometrial cancer, and her grandfather has prostate cancer.

Last year, Penn Relay for Life welcomed nearly 1,500 participants, and Nelson hopes the turnout this time will be even bigger. 

For those to whom the idea of staying up all night doesn’t appeal, Nelson says another way to support the cause is by purchasing Luminaria, bags with candles inside of them. The Lumniaria light up the night across Franklin Field during the Relay. Each candle honors someone who is fighting cancer, someone who has survived cancer or someone who has died.

She plans to continue participating in the Penn Relay for Life for the next four years.

“The stronger we become as a community and society, the weaker cancer will become,” Nelson says. “I firmly believe that a cure for cancer will come, as long as we keep fighting to make it happen.”

Nelson will graduate in 2017 with a degree in economics and a concentration in marketing. After graduation, she plans to attend law school and hopes eventually to start her own corporate law firm.