Cancer Awareness Club hosts first ever Cycle for Survival at a high school

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Izzy Abbott and Maya Nornberg

Students and faculty cycled, danced, and cheered on their peers in the Lower Gym on Monday afternoon to raise around $48,000 in donations for the school’s first ever Cycle for Survival event.
Physical education teacher and certified spinning instructor Meredith Cullen led energetic 20-person spinning sessions. Cancer Awareness Club (CAC) co-Presidents Luke Weber (12) and Sam Keimweiss (12) gave their speeches and attendees played games such as ping-pong and cornhole amidst the music and cheers for bikers.
Given that Cycle for Survival requires that participants be at least 18 years old for safety reasons and that it costs at least $1,000 to ride in an event, it took many months of planning to make this the first time the organization allowed it as a high school event, Weber said.
Keimweiss and Weber began planning this event last March when they met with a representative from the organization at a Cycle event in Bryant Park, Weber said. Weber, who began speaking at Cycle events across the country after his last treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), wanted to bring together his bond with the organization and the school, as both places have supported him throughout his treatment, he said.
“I wanted to make sure this could be lasting like Relay for Life and there is no better place than Horace Mann to be the model for future high school Cycle events,” Weber said.
Cycle for Survival is a non-profit run by MSKCC that began 10 years ago, Weber said. The organization is dedicated to raising money for rare cancer research. Although rare cancers comprise 50% of all cancers, there are not many treatment options for rare cancer patients, which is where Cycle comes in, he said. CAC has raised over $45,000 in donations from Cycle for Survival so far, $40,000 of which are flat donations, CAC Vice President Becca Rosenzweig (11) said.
At its core, Cycle is also deeply committed to bringing people together in the fight against cancer, Rosenzweig said.
To orchestrate fund-raising and community engagement for the event, students and faculty signed up in teams of five and pledged certain donation amounts per-mile biked, or made flat donations not dependent on the mileage. Students under 18 had their parents sign a waiver when they began fundraising. One representative from each team biked at a time and members switched places in 20-minute increments.
By sending out colorful, bold-lettered emails and making enthusiastic announcements at assemblies since winter break, they got the student body thinking about their teams and donations to rally as much support for the event as possible.
Teams signed up according to club affiliations, extracurriculars, sports teams, and more, with groups ranging from the Model UN (MUN) team to Horace Mann Dance Company (HMDC). Some teams comprised of just students or teachers, but others, like the Counseling and Guidance team, had both faculty and student participants.
“It was a great experience, and I was very proud to support and represent the MUN team in this event,” Charlie Shapiro (11) said. It was a unique opportunity for teams to work together and collaborate towards an important cause, he said.
Some participants expressed feelings of strength and unity in engaging in this event, whether they were riding or cheering on their friends and teachers. The event was open to the entire high school, and over 75 students and faculty signed up in teams.
“I think that the event went really well, there were so many people who showed up to cycle and many people to just support others. It was really nice to see both my teachers and my friends at the event and I definitely felt that our community was united and working together,” Sarah Taub (10) said.
Students were empowered by seeing each other come to support the cause, CAC Cancer Projects Coordinator Deven Shah (12) said. “It was especially nice because there was so much school spirit before and during the event.”
Teachers were also elated to be participating among students as one cohesive community dedicated to a single cause. “It reminded me that we are part of something bigger than ourselves,” Dr. Ian Pervil of Counseling and Guidance said.
As words of motivation from Weber, Cullen, and other CAC members boomed over the speakers, encouraging students to push through the physical challenge and sharing their connection to the cause, students found common ground in all areas of the event– talking between riding sessions and dancing with orange-colored pom-poms on the sidelines.
“People who didn’t know each other too well like faculty and students across grades came together and bonded over this experience and in this fight,” Weber said.
Some students and faculty were especially excited to participate because of personal connections to the cause.
Cullen, who had never participated in a Cycle event before, was intrigued by the event because she has family members who were treated at Sloan Kettering, she said. “I hope we can get the feeling of taking time out of our days to do something nice for other people and do something lasting.”
Other CAC members were drawn to a new club-sponsored event that could have as lasting effect as Relay for Life, an all-school event that also raises money for cancer awareness and occurs in late spring.
“I only joined the club this year but I think the event really brought people together and I hope more people get involved in the future” CAC team member Eli Scher (11) said.
The legacy of the event rests on younger CAC members who will continue to unite the student body in facing cancer, Weber said.
“I want this to become more than just an event, but I think it already has been that,” he said. “I hope the school continues to come together over more causes like this one that we are all passionate about.”
The commitment of not just the CAC but the greater school community to coalesce for Cycle for Survival is striking, and the club members hope that the spirit brought to the event persists for others like it for the rest of the school year, Rosenzweig said.
“The fight against cancer is bigger than one person, it’s about the whole community coming together in the face of something we all connect to in some way,” Weber said.