The seventh-annual Buckeye Cruise for Cancer was exactly what the name implies: a bunch of Buckeyes coming together to defeat the disease that claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans each year.
So whether the Buckeye was as famous as head coach Urban Meyer and his family, as old as 93-year-old Cy Souders (a football All-American at OSU and a cancer survivor himself), or as beloved as two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, they were all in it for the same goal – to raise money to help The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.
And in the end, the goal was met in spades. The cruise, which was held from Thursday, Feb. 20 through Monday, Feb. 24, raised approximately $1.5 million for the cancer center as well as the Urban and Shelley Meyer Fund, which is used to lure some of the best doctors in the country to Ohio State’s Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.
“They’re calling us now,” Dr. Michael A. Caligiuri said, director of the cancer center, told fans the first night. “That’s the equivalent of them saying, ‘Coach, I want to play for you.’ We’re holding up our end of the bargain.”
As did everyone on board the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas vessel, from the approximately 30 former Ohio State athletes who took the trip to mingle and sign autographs with fans to the alumni band and cheerleaders who provided OSU spirit to the fans who were eager to donate to fund a new mass spectrometer for the James as well as pledge more than $500,000 to snap up the plethora of live auction items, including dinner with Griffin and the chance to spend Heisman weekend in New York City with Kirk Herbstreit.
That constant generosity out of the 2,300-plus fans on board and the relentless Buckeye spirit impressed Griffin, the current director of the Ohio State University Alumni Association and someone who is no stranger to meet and greets.
“This is one of my favorite events of the year because it brings together the scarlet and gray for a powerful purpose, and you all know what that is: beating cancer,” he said.
“I’ve said this before and I will say it again: We are going to cure cancer and it’s going to happen at the James at the Ohio State University.”
One reason the call to give back is so strong is that cancer has touched so many, including Meyer. His sister, Gigi Escoe, came along and told the audience as part of an emotional address how their mother Gisela’s battle with breast cancer stretched to 13 years – much longer than doctors originally gave her as a prognosis – thanks to specialized care from Ohio State.
That story left Meyer on the verge of tears, as it took a few seconds for the coach to compose himself when his sister handed him back the microphone.
“We will defeat it,” he finally said of cancer. “We’re very humbled to be a part of this.”
That’s not to say this year’s trip was all about heavy emotions. There was lots of fun in the sun for both the players and fans, and the Buckeye-themed programs allowed fans to receive wisdom from Heisman Trophy winners Griffin and Eddie George; watch former OSU player and current strength and conditioning coach Anthony Schlegel join fans in playing a Buckeye-themed version of “The Price is Right”; and laugh at moments like former OSU football player William White as he dressed up as Cher to auction off one prize as well as former basketball star J.J. Sullinger donning tights to join mascot Brutus Buckeye in a dance mashup of hits from the past seven decades.
By the time the long weekend was over, the event raised its overall fundraising total to more than $4.5 million since its inception, exactly the kind of thing that everyone on board ready to say “Go Bucks!”
And on the ship, there was only one acceptable response to that: “Beat Cancer!”