Walking into the first captain’s meeting of last year, Nick Rodriguez felt out of his comfort zone. Not only was it his first year heading up a Relay for Life team, but also he was also one of the youngest people there.
“It was pretty intimidating going into the Relay meeting as the only teen in a room full of middle aged adults,” Rodriguez said. “But everyone was so outgoing and passionate about what they were doing. Now, it’s kind of like another class.”
Rodriguez is a senior at Plant City High School — and a busy one at that. He was quarterback on this year’s football team, plays baseball and also is a member of the Civitan Club. But, between all his activities and studies, he somehow finds time to devote to Relay.
It was the story of his mother’s friend that first sparked his interest in Relay. She was diagnosed with cancer after having a baby.
“It really touched me hard,” Rodriguez said of the story.
Rodriguez also was looking for community-services hours to meet his graduation requirements and earn a Bright Futures scholarship to help pay for his tuition at the University of Florida.
“I didn’t want to do the run-of-the-mill thing that everybody does — like volunteer at the food bank,” Rodriguez said.
So he decided to start his own Relay for Life team. Through his research, he found the Be the Match Foundation, which connects patients with life-threatening blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, to a donor match for marrow or umbilical cord blood transplants.
He learned that just by swabbing the inside of a cheek, they can have someone registered with their marrow type.
“It’s just a neat thing that I didn’t know about and that I don’t think a lot of people know about,” Rodriguez said. “We just want to raise awareness about it.”
Fascinated by the foundation, the name of his team was born — Team ToMarrow.
Last year, representatives from the foundation set up a drive at Team ToMarrow’s tent. Team ToMarrow helped with the drive, putting together packets. With just four simple swabs of the mouth, the foundation was able to add about 80 donors to their registry.
In addition to the drive, Team ToMarrow has been fundraising all year, asking for donations and traveling to Tampa for the Be the Match 5K. The team has raised $5,000 in the past two years.
This year, Team ToMarrow has about 20 people on board. In addition to Rodriguez’s friends, his younger sister, Deanna, and her friends are also on the team. They plan to learn how to run the team, so they can carry on the tradition when they reach high school.
Another addition to the team is Dave Butcher and several of his family and friends. Butcher has been diagnosed with cancer and is looking for a marrow donor.
“We’re hoping we can help out his situation,” Rodriguez said. “Our goal is to find him a match.”
Rodriguez encourages other young people looking to get involved in Relay or any kind of volunteer work as long — as it’s something they’ll love.
“Find something you have a passion (about),” Rodriguez said. “It makes you feel good about yourself — working to help improve the lives of others.”
Contact Amber Jurgensen at [email protected].
HOW TO HELP
Stop by Team ToMarrow’s tent at Relay for Life. Their candy-inspired theme is “Team ToMarrow is on a swabbing spree.”
For more information about Be the Match, visit marrow.org.