Walking around the Drillfield together is not possible due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

But that won’t stop a group of Virginia Tech students from marching on in the fight against cancer.

“I don’t think it was really ever a choice for us to cancel this,” said Brittany Bunn, a senior and co-director of Relay for Life at Virginia Tech.

An annual event since 2001, this year’s physical Relay For Life, which was scheduled for April 10, was one of several on-campus gatherings derailed in an effort to stop the spread of the deadly virus. But rather than allow the event to fade away, Bunn and others quickly crafted an alternative.

“We’d been planning the event on the Drillfield for about a year,” said Kyle Long, a junior and co-director of the event. “But within about three weeks we changed it all and adapted it to this virtual platform.”

Not only was it adapted, but also expanded. The event will now span five days, from April 20–24, and include dozens of tributes, musical performances, and special guests that Hokies can access with a computer or mobile device. The events will even include a special science experiment from Miss America Camille Schrier ’18 and the traditional lighting of the luminarias.

“I think it shows the will power of all the people involved that as soon we made the decision to go virtual, our committee of 150 people was fully on board,” Long said. “Their dedication and encouragement is unparalleled and we are so thankful to have such an amazing group.”     

Relay for Life at Virginia Tech is considered to be the largest collegiate Relay For Life in the world by the American Cancer Society (ACS), and has raised more than $6 million since its inception.

The students said the motivation to transition the event online was not only to uphold the tradition for the Virginia Tech community, but also to lead the way for other universities across the country.  

“Once we made the move to online, we had a Zoom call with a lot of other colleges and talked them through moving theirs online too,” Bunn said. “What we chose to do by transitioning our event to a virtual platform was mimicked by other communities and colleges and it was really nice to see that ripple effect across the country.”

Samantha Polito, the ACS community development manager who has worked with Tech for the past five years, said that over the years, the students have grown accustomed to be sought after for advice on running successful relays, and it was no surprise they set a great example this year.

“They were obviously disappointed, but I think they were also very excited by the challenge to put on a strong event, have people engaged, and continue fundraising,” Polito said. “Even going virtual, this whole time, they haven’t missed a meeting.”

Though the event will not be exactly as they’d originally hoped, Bunn and Long say the circumstances have allowed them to learn a new set of virtual skills they can use for future relays. And it’s also confirmed their thoughts on the power of the Virginia Tech community.

“I think it just shows that Hokie Spirit; that no matter what happens, we’re going to find a way to serve,” Long said.

— Written by Travis Williams