Why do you Relay?

Jenna Hart '14 shared her very personal reasons for committing to the Relay for Life. Thanks to Jenna's intiative, the Relay will be held at Peddie for the first time on April 27, 2014. 

On Sunday, April 27th, Peddie will be hosting its first Relay for Life. As an event whose proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society, the goal of Relay is to both raise money and awareness of a disease that has affected all of us in our own separate ways. Relay for Life is focused on honoring those who are currently fighting cancer, those who have lost their battle with cancer, and those whose lives have been forever changed by cancer. In Peddie’s community, many of us have been personally touched by this disease through our faculty, peers, and families. Together with Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society, we can make a difference.

Relay for Life often asks its participants: Why do you Relay?

So I asked myself this question too.

Like most kids, I heard stories of my parents’ childhoods. I heard about my dad’s childhood, growing up in Jersey City, and attending boarding school. When my dad told stories about his youth, I never completely understood how his childhood experiences shaped him into the person standing in front of me.

Jerry Hart '69
After my dad’s mom and dad both passed away, he was raised by his much-older brother and his wife. They made the decision to send him to a boarding school in central Jersey, called the Peddie School. Beginning when he was in 7th grade, Peddie taught him about life, living, and loving. He discovered his passion for running, lettering in both track and cross country during his time as a student. He found a life-long mentor in the coach for whom the track is named after: Robert Bullet Lawson. As one friend explained, he became the “prototypical Peddie boy. Self-assured, self-motivated, [coming] from limited assets and a poor neighborhood.” Peddie was his parent, his home, and his life. Upon graduating in 1969 and attending college, Peddie was never far from my dad’s mind. After his career as an Army officer, his fellow soldiers recalled his lifelong goal to return to his alma mater, to give back to the place that gave him everything. After retiring from the army, my dad took a position, at the place that was his very core: Peddie.

When I was little, I was running around campus like Anna Treese and Ian Stewart do now, as a faculty child. I ate dinner in the dining hall. I screamed the Ala Viva at Blair Day. Center Campus was my playground. Peddie was my favorite place in the world. Peddie was where I felt most comfortable.

Fast forward to my 8th grade year. I was in the midst of my application to Peddie, when my family began to notice changes in my dad’s normal tendencies. He had been the cross country coach for 15 years; but this year was different. He hadn’t been feeling well and had lost a lot of weight over the course of the fall. After lots of persuasion, my dad finally went to the doctor, who determined that he had stage three pancreatic cancer. He continued to dedicate his time and energy to Peddie, despite his depleted energy from the chemo and radiation. The spring came along, and I, just as my dad, decided to attend Peddie come September. I was so proud of myself, and I knew that I was making him proud, too, when I chose Peddie, which made me feel even better about my decision. Subconsciously, I probably chose to attend for the wrong reasons; I wanted to come because I wanted to be just like my Dad, a person I admired greatly and the hero in my life. It was impossible not to notice the shocking changes in the person I idolized. Over the course of 8 months, my dad went from a healthy, fit man, to someone almost unrecognizable to me. My dad, my hero, was wasting away.

Hart '69 with his 2008 Cross Country team

Immediately after starting my freshman year at Peddie, my dad’s health took a sharp turn for the worst; he had lost even more weight, even though I thought there was nothing left to lose; he was only ten pounds more than I was at that point. His blue eyes, usually filled with life, were beginning to look empty, like a ghost inhabited my dad’s body. His speech started to slow, and within my first two weeks as a Falcon, he was barely recognizable, both physically and mentally. My brother Jeremy returned from his first year of college, knowing that we didn’t have much time left as a family. When he returned, we had five hours together. On September 18th, 2010, a few weeks after I began Peddie, my dad passed away from pancreatic cancer.

When I returned to school, Peddie was no longer the oasis where I grew up. It was my worst nightmare. Memories of my dad’s sunken cheeks and the hum of his oxygen tank met me with each step. The smell Dunkin Donuts coffee reminded me of the extra-large coffee with two creams and two Sweet-n-Lows he drank each morning. Headed towards the dining hall, I was haunted by flashes of my dad walking the same steps. The blank stare he had the last time I saw him alive is one that often flashed in my head. Those memories, images of him suffering, met me each time I was on campus. It put me in a daze through many of my first’s as a student.

Each day since freshman year has gotten easier and easier, and now, I’m here. Peddie is not the oasis it was when I was little, nor is it the nightmare it had become once my dad was no longer here. Peddie is once again my home. It kept me together while everything around me fell apart, and it loved me when I felt alone. It taught me to be happy, and to embrace this place and all it has to offer. I decided that the only way to truly embrace my dad’s memory in my everyday life was to be a constant reminder of what he stood for, to cherish the place he loved for most of his life.

Peddie is my connection to my dad; it is everything he stood for, everything he was, and everything he loved. This link has helped me to grow into the person that I am, a person who I know my dad would be proud of, because I had the guidance from the place that made him who he was, too. This is why I Relay.

So when asked the question: why do you Relay? My short answer is this:

I Relay for my dad: the person who taught me to love and be loved by a place that makes me the best version of myself.

Now Peddie, I ask you: why do you Relay?

Thank you and Ala Viva.