Locals share the art of staying awake for a cause during Miss-Lou Relay for Life

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 3, 2009

NATCHEZ — Pulling an all-nighter is something common for college students cramming for exams, but Friday night many people were up all night with no textbooks in hand.

But those fighting off sleepiness and chugging down energy drinks had a bigger purpose than acing a chemistry exam. They were up all night raising money for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

For some it was an influx of caffeine that kept them awake, but for many it was the greater cause that had them walking in circles at 4 a.m.

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Such was the case for Cathy Hill, a veteran Relay participant and member of Miss-Lou Team Extreme.

Sporting a neon yellow T-shirt, all Hill had to do was look down if she ever felt her eyes starting to droop. Affixed to her team shirt was a button in honor of her mother, Frances Beach, who battled breast cancer.

“I’m out here for my mother,” Hill said. “My mother used to be a team member, and we made her stay all night, so I’m staying all night for her.”

Fellow Team Extreme member Jan Simpson said staying up all night is nothing new for the team — they do it every year. She said their goal is to win the Sunrise Award for staying up all night.

But Simpson said they don’t want to win just to hoist the trophy.

“Cancer never sleeps, so for one night we won’t either,” she said. “We want to do all we can to beat it, and if that means we’re up all night then that’s what we’ll do.”

But sometimes determination isn’t enough; so Hill and Simpson and the rest of their team have a few tricks that they depend on to get them through the night.

“It starts to hit you about 4 a.m.,” Simpson said.

And when their eyelids start getting heavy, Simpson said that’s when they start moving.

“You’ve got to stay active and keep moving,” she said. “When you sit down, that’s when you lose it.”

Miss-Lou Team Extreme member Julia Drew said the movement strategy has been well tested by her team over the years.

“In my first year, it was just two of us (up all night),” she said. “And we literally walked all night. We had to.”

But now, Drew can give her feet a little break since a few years ago she discovered a new trick to staying alert.

“I drink a lot of energy drinks,” she said. “But only for Relay.”

At the Natchez-Adams School District tent, Bonita Hamilton and Valari Johnson were settling in for a long evening, too.

And even though the teachers had put in a full day in the classroom, they were still up beat about staying up all night.

“We want to raise as much money as we can and represent the Natchez-Adams School District well,” Hamilton said.

But Hamilton admitted she wasn’t a pro at staying up all night.

“It has been a long times since I’ve done this,” she said. “But we really want to be out here all night.”

For Johnson, it was the memory of her mother, who died of cancer.

“I’m doing this in her honor,” Johnson said. “She is what is keeping me going and making me stay awake.”