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Features Relays Edition

Meet the seniors setting the stage for the Drake Relays

The seniors pose for a photo Photo by Maddi Cave | Staff Writer

As the Drake Relays return in full swing this April, three journalism seniors are rounding up their final year by taking the stage as hosts. It’s the first time three voices will represent the student body at Drake as Relays hosts – Sydney Skemp, McCade Gowdy and Kirby Nelson.

The three hosts are nominated by the students, to which then they go in for personal interviews with the Student Activities Board president and Relays co-chairs. It takes around 30 minutes, and they’re confronted by questions that challenge what makes them fit to bear that responsibility.

It’s not the first time Skemp has taken the stage by any means. An avid performer, a member of Drake Choir and the university’s dance team, she’s also taken to singing and performing jazz pieces on the side. Nelson boasts high energy and a passion for Drake’s community – she’s active in organizations like Women in Business and takes a jab at several intramural sports. Gowdy’s involvement on campus has given him a voice to reach students on campus, having taken part in Drake Broadcasting System, been a member of Theta Chi and a student ambassador.

“I do see it as a really big honor to be able to represent the student body at Drake, especially during such a busy time and kind of the cultivation of what I see as our student experience here at Drake…Relays is a really big deal,” Skemp said.

Besides being involved in singing and performing, Skemp was also the 2022 president of her sorority, Alpha Phi. That experience led her to being in the public eye a lot, and she’s found herself comfortable in front of a crowd.

For Nelson, the opportunity to host ties together her view of the past, present and future as a Drake student. The people – be it friends, relatives or alumni – that she’s connected to in the past. The present, where she’s able to enjoy Relays with no barriers. And the future, where her little brother who’s coming to Drake next year will have a chance to experience the draw of Drake Relays.

“I think that’s why I love Drake. We have such a strong history of being connected and being a strong community,” Nelson said. “But, it’s also thinking about all the future generations that are going to be able to come through and experience those too.”

The hosts are currently taking care of more logistical things in preparation for the week, including putting together schedules, creating personal bios and taking pictures for Instagram. They’d recently conducted a photoshoot to kick off waves of excitement in the student body, a sign that the Drake Relays are near.

As journalism students, the three have known each other for a while now. A blend of their personalities mesh into one, strong dynamic – an energy that keeps people on their toes for what’s next.

“I think Kirby is always super upbeat, super fun and just excited about everything. And then Sydney is definitely more silly and creative and fun in that aspect. And I think I’m probably more laid back,” Gowdy said.

Hosting is not just about projecting your voice with a microphone to an eager crowd. The hosts now are finding ways to mix with the audiences so they feel welcome and included in the space. 

And the campus is bustling once again for this year’s run. For the past couple of years, Drake hadn’t been able to host a full-blown Relays week due to COVID-19. In 2020, it was canceled. In 2021, most of the events took place online. 2022 marked the first comeback since Drake’s pre-pandemic days.

“We’re happy to be behind the scenes, helping build a stronger community,” Nelson said. “It’s just about being super present and in the moment, and not thinking about, ‘Oh my gosh, I have five more days of Relays left’ or ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so sad that the entire week of Relays is gone.’”

Amongst all of SAB’s events, the Relays concert – featuring Bea Miller, Dave East and Drake SJMC’s ownTimm Pilcher – holds the most anticipation for Nelson, Skemp and Gowdy. It’ll be held on April 28 at Forest Avenue, in front of the Drake Stadium.

“I think that night will be really special, being able to bring somebody from out of town and show them Drake’s culture and how we welcome other people into our city and campus,” Skemp said.

Not only are Nelson, Skemp and Gowdy about to bear graduation caps soon, but they lie among all the seniors that had the first couple of years of Relays taken away from them, up until 2022. For Gowdy, a study abroad trip to Italy last spring means that this year’s Relays is both his first and last.

“It’s kind of one of my personality traits…I have to maximize a lot of things in my life,” Gowdy said. “Just keeping in mind that this is a one-time opportunity.”

The Drake Relays marks a time when the community in and around Drake comes alive. This year’s theme, Making Waves, will cement a moment of celebration on campus and through track and field.

“It’s definitely special to Drake. I don’t know any other campus that holds this large scale of a track event,” Skemp said. “It’s definitely, really special to be able to not only go and support our student-athletes but be able to see amazing runners from all over the country.”


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