Father Ryan’s Relay For Life earns national Pat Flynn Spirit of Relay award
January 21, 2020
When Father Ryan students staged their first Relay For Life in 2009, their dream was to raise a few thousand dollars for cancer research and build some community spirit.

Today, 10 years later, Father Ryan’s students have raised a cumulative $1.2 million for the American Cancer Society, created the largest student-led Relay For Life, per capita, in the nation, and attracted more than 1,000 people from throughout the city to their campus last October for Relay For Life 2019.

“Passionate, dedicated youth like you are changing the course of this disease. You are our greatest hope for fighting cancer,” said Gary Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society, presenting the award in a special ceremony January 14 at the Nashville high school.

Their success and the unique activities they have developed for Relay For Life earned Father Ryan the inaugural Pat Flynn Spirit of Relay Award from the national office of the American Cancer Society (ACS). The new nomination-based award is given in memory of Pat Flynn, known as the “Mother of Relay” who inspired Relay participants around the world. This award honors an event or individual that embodies the same spirit of Relay as Pat Flynn.

Father Ryan’s Relay For Life was a regional nominee from among 441 Relays in the North Central region and 2,200 nationwide last year. Relay For Life was founded by Dr. Gordy Klatt in Tacoma, Washington, in 1985. Relay For Life events around the world have raised nearly $6.5 billion to help the American Cancer Society attack cancer.

In making the announcement, American Cancer Society Regional Vice President of Community Development Sarah Wells saluted Father Ryan, saying, “Pat Flynn would be proud that the first award in her name is being presented to this school. There are outstanding Relays throughout the country that were nominated for this award. From its very inception, Father Ryan’s Relay For Life has been distinctive, both in how it is run and in how much enthusiasm and spirit it creates. They are an outstanding example of Relay’s mission, and we are honored to present them this award.”

“This is such exciting news,” said Father Ryan’s 2019 Relay For Life co-chair Madison Ahern, “and we are thrilled with the honor. But we know this is an award shared by every Father Ryan student who has been a part of Relay over these last 10 years. It sounds weird to say, but I think our success is because it’s all student-led. We have four adults who are moderators, but Father Ryan students have always been the leaders. And I think that’s why it’s so incredible.”

Begun by then Father Ryan Dean of Campus Ministry and Student Life Tim Forbes, Relay For Life captured the attention of the students early on, in large measure because so many of the students had family members and classmates who had battled this disease.

This year’s Co-chair Danny Farone is one of them. When he was in third grade, his sister, Grace of the Class of 2013, was diagnosed with sarcoma in her finger during her senior year at Father Ryan. His family attended the Father Ryan High School Relay For Life that year, and the event left its mark on Danny. He has attended every year since.

“It did a lot for my family (after my sister was diagnosed). It gave us hope and gave her hope. That always touched me, so I wanted to give back,” Danny said, explaining why he volunteered for what could be a considered a three-month full-time job during his senior year. “It’s not a job,” he insists though. “It’s a privilege.”

The 2019 Relay For Life at Father Ryan was the largest to date. There were 45 students serving on the Relay planning committee, working on marketing, production and team recruitment. A total of 35 teams registered, all of which were led by students, except for the faculty and staff team. Teams were headed by students in groups such as the girls soccer team, Father Ryan drumline, and sophomore boys, students from schools such as St. Cecilia Academy, Holy Rosary Academy, Pope John Paull II High School, Ensworth, and others also created their own teams. The fundraising efforts included penny wars, “Miracle Minute” collections during a home football game, two give-back nights with local businesses, a benefit concert and the day-of events. All were organized and carried out by the students.

“We are proud and humbled by this news,” said Dean of Campus Ministry and Student Life Elizabeth Elfers. “And we are really thrilled for the students. They are the ones who have made this program such an integral part of the Father Ryan experience. From the very first year, they have embraced our Relay For Life and they have committed the time and effort each year to engage the student body, to plan events and to ask for contributions. They have grown as a result, both in their skills and in their hearts.”

John Bearden, a Golden Grad of Father Ryan (Class of ’68) and current president of the American Cancer Society Tennessee Area Board, said, “I am honored in my position to thank and celebrate this generation of students. As leaders in the fight against cancer, they are helping us transform this disease from deadly to treatable, and treatable to preventable. These Father Ryan students are changing the course of cancer and inspiring us with their incredible energy to make a difference right here in Nashville.”


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