Buckeye Cruise for Cancer: Buckeye Nation Sets Sail for a Cure

It started as a crazy idea shared between friends.

When Lisa Cisco, president of Travel Partners in Dublin, Ohio, sailed on a cruise ship with the 1993 World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays, she noticed that the world champion professional team attracted only a few hundred fans. What would happen if the Buckeye Nation set sail for a good cause, she wondered: Could they fill an entire ship?

With her own mother and grandparents affected by cancer, and as the travel agency serving Stefanie Spielman and her family, Cisco also knew she wanted to do something to help raise money for cancer research.

“What if we booked a whole Royal Caribbean cruise ship for Ohio State fans who want to end cancer?” Cisco asked Spielman, who was immediately intrigued. She connected Cisco to her friends at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center –James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), including Senior Director of Development Jennifer McDonald, and the crazy idea became reality.

“I was terrified when I booked every cabin on that initial cruise,” recalls Cisco. “We had no idea whether we would fill it.” Cisco, her colleague Chris Quinn, McDonald and others worked night and day to ensure that first Buckeye Cruise for Cancer in 2008 was successful.

Buckeye Nation did not disappoint, and since then, the cruise has blossomed into a powerhouse fundraiser, garnering more than $5.4 million total for life-saving cancer research at the OSUCCC – James. The cruise now benefits the Urban and Shelley Meyer Fund for Cancer Research at the OSUCCC – James, supporting research for all types of cancer.

The 2015 cruise—dubbed the “National ChampionSHIP”— welcomed cruisers with a 30-story banner honoring the football team’s recent national championship, and Urban and Shelley Meyer hoisting the championship trophy. Thanks to the year-round fundraising efforts by cruisers and this year’s record-breaking on-board live auction, the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer has had its best fundraising year to date, raising significant dollars for the Urban and Shelley Meyer Fund for Cancer Research. As part of this year’s fundraising efforts, cruisers and cruise supporters participated in the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer Fund-A-Need auction, which raised funds for a new Live Cell Imaging Microscope System, a critical piece of equipment for researchers at the OSUCCC – James.

What’s the magic that draws people to the cruise, even leading to a wait list dozens of names long in recent years? Probably the unique alignment of medicine and athletics that pairs everyday Buckeye fans with their athletic heroes—all for the benefit of cancer research.

Some of the biggest names in Ohio State football have been involved in the cruise, including Kirk Herbstreit, A.J. Hawk, Archie Griffin, James Laurinaitis, Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Schlegel, Eddie George, Zach Boren and others.

Brutus also attends, as well as the Alumni Band and Alumni Cheerleaders. The strong support and presence on the cruise from current and former Ohio State athletes—over 30-strong on the most recent cruise—has led to the cruise’s nickname of the “Floating Buckeye Nation.”

Since Urban Meyer was first announced as head football coach, he and his extended family have embraced the cruise, in part because of his personal connection with cancer; both of Meyer’s parents died of the disease. “The Meyer family is absolutely incredible to take time out of their busy lives and spend it on the cruise with Buckeye fans,” says Cisco. “We have the national championship coach who still makes time in his life to give back. He and his family are champions on and off the field.”

Like the Meyers, those who experience the cruise tend to want to return year after year. “It’s like a family environment,” explains Quinn. “We have about an 80-percent retention. People call right away to book their same cabin for the next year.” The relationship that attendees build with the OSUCCC – James during the cruise has led to philanthropic support outside of the cruise, as people learn about the cutting-edge research happening in their own community and develop a connection to the OSUCCC – James’ mission.

An army of grassroots volunteers, including approximately 20 who volunteer full time and hundreds of dedicated part timers, makes this work possible. “We couldn’t do it without them,” says Cisco. Many of the cruisers have become avid fundraisers on their own, hosting bowling tournaments, backyard barbeques, poker tournaments and more to raise money for the OSUCCC – James. The cruise’s sponsors, including longtime lead sponsor Kroger, also play an integral role.

Says McDonald, “The cruise has been amazing since day one, but its impact is magnified each year. The James is incredibly grateful to Lisa Cisco, Chris Quinn and others at Travel Partners, as well as the many volunteers and sponsors who have grown this into the tremendous event it is today. We have the best researchers at The James, and we also have the most dedicated friends and champions.”

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