It was at 10:05 p.m. Jan. 18 when the exercise competition began.

The temperature hovered just above 20 degrees Fahrenheit as two teens in the parking lot of Christ the King parish in Westmere, Albany, began an aggressive series of push-ups to keep warm.

"Your elbows are too far out!" friends coached. Clusters of students from Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady, Siena College in Loudonville and elsewhere watched and cheered.

The group was waiting for a Yankee Trails bus to take them to Washington, D.C., for the 2018 March for Life and its accompanying youth rally and Mass.

The annual March for Life is held on the anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion. Each year, hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers gather in D.C., including hundreds of Catholics from the Albany Diocese.

This year, close to 100 teens from across the Diocese made the trip to the 45th annual march, as well as about 200 adults.

All for life
The Evangelist accompanied a group from ND-BG, but Catholic Central High School in Troy also sent a busload of students, as did Saratoga Central Catholic High. Buses also left from St. Clement's parish in Saratoga Springs, Our Lady of Knock Shrine in East Durham and Sacred Heart parish in Stamford; most of the men currently studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese attended March for Life events, as did Knights of Malta, Knights of Columbus and other groups.

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger celebrated a Mass during the series of pro-life events, while several parishes back home had holy hours to pray for participants and for the life and dignity of the human person.

"I always see [the march] on TV, so I wanted to see it in person," explained Anthony Vicinanzo, a student at ND-BG who attends St. Joseph's/St. Michael's/Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Amsterdam. "I'm definitely anti-abortion, so I thought it would be a great experience."

"It's my first time to Washington," said Joey Tortello of All Saints parish in Albany, a sophomore at ND-BG. "My friend Cam and a lot of guys from school [went last year]."

After a seven-hour drive, thousands of young Catholics streamed into the Capital One Arena in Washington for the youth rally and Mass for Life. Groups of teens dressed in matching hats and t-shirts waved banners that read, "#iStand4Life," screaming and shaking their fists in excitement.

Inspired youth
"This is the best part: seeing all the people that come out" to the rally, said Jake Marrone, an ND-BG senior from St. Mary's parish in Amsterdam. "Some people get really into it!"

Julia Marrone, another St. Mary's parishioner and an alum of Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, attended the youth rally and march last year and said she "loved the motivational speakers before the Mass. It was really inspiring."

The band Out of Darkness performed worship music at the arena until Emily Wilson, the event's master of ceremonies, appeared onstage. "Good morning, everybody!" she yelled, as the group from the Albany Diocese joined all the rest in cheering.

Ryan Bomberger was this year's keynote speaker for the rally. Catholic News Service reported that he told the crowd he was conceived through rape, but his mother chose to continue her pregnancy. He was adopted into a family of 13 children, 10 of whom were adopted.

Kaelin Roe, a freshman at ND-BG who attends St. Paul the Apostle parish in Schenectady, said that attending the rally was important to her and her faith, even though she knew the subject of abortion can be especially hard for young adults to discuss.

"I have a family friend [who] was facing the decision" of having an abortion, she said. "It was hard to see. I wanted to come here and stand up for what I think is right."

For Cameron Kiser, a senior at ND-BG, it was his second time attending the rally and march.

"Everybody deserves a chance at life, no matter the circumstances," he told The Evangelist. "[It's great] seeing how many [people] came out for the cause."

Faith fired up
Kathy Tobin, a chaperone from St. Paul's in Schenectady, said experiences like this "get [students] excited about their faith."

Nicholas Mendonca, an eighth-grader at ND-BG, had a special reason for joining the other pilgrims: "I'm just an altar server right now, but I think I want to be a priest. God does so much for me and I want to say His words for everybody else."

Celebrating the Mass for Life was Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, with 20 other clergy concelebrating. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, read a message from Pope Francis to participants that spoke of the pope's admiration for them and said they were in his prayers.

"I really liked the homily. It's always my favorite part," said Juliana Tortello, a freshman at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons and parishioner at All Saints in Albany.

"That was awesome!" Julia Marrone declared as the Mass concluded.

Outside, cheers could be heard in the distance. Teenagers and adults waved banners overhead and chanted as they made their way to the start of the march, near the National Mall: "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Roe v. Wade has got to go!"

At the National Mall field, pre-march speakers included House speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). President Donald Trump addressed the marchers, speaking from the White House Rose Garden to thank participants who came out to stand for life.

Standing together
Attendees then gathered their posters, banners and signs to begin the march itself. ND-BG students and a group from Catholic Central High School in Troy met up with Bishop Scharfenberger to march as a diocese.

The banner that led the march was carried up Constitution Avenue toward the Supreme Court building and the Capitol, followed by several hundred thousand marchers with signs reading, "Pro-women, pro-life," and, "We are the pro-life generation."

As the banner passed, the Albany group merged into the crowd. "Here we go!" a teenager yelled.

Luke Geddies, a junior at CCHS who attends St. Pius X parish in Loudonville, was more introspective.

"It's really encouraging [being here] -- not only because I'm obviously pro-life, but because it helps my own faith," he said. "Sometimes, I struggle, so seeing all these people together, most of [whom] are of the Catholic faith -- it encourages me to delve into the faith more."

"I'm excited to be here, but I'm nervous about other people's views," said Ashley Wylson, a CCHS senior from St. Edward's parish in Clifton Park. "I wouldn't know what to do if someone opposing this [march] came up to me. But there are so many people here that it makes being here a happy space."

John Murphy, a senior at Catholic Central High School, grabbed a #iStand4Life sign and clapped his hands, calling to his friend, Matt, who bent over and scooped Luke up onto his shoulders to march above the crowd. Their peers burst into laughter and cheers.

A group marching next to the Catholic High students shouted, "P-R-O-L-I-F-E! My mama gave my life to me!"

Another chant went back and forth between groups: "We love babies; yes, we do! We love babies; how about you?"

Heading home
After reaching the Supreme Court building, students began moving toward the meetup locations for their buses, some slumping in exhaustion with pro-life posters still in their hands or using friends' shoulders as pillows.

"I can't even speak. I lost my voice from cheering," laughed Jose Maldonado, a freshman at Siena College.

Matthew Pampolina, a senior at Siena and president of the college's pro-life club, said that he loved the affirmation young people received at the march. "Even going to a Catholic school, sometimes it's hard to feel that support on [life issues], just because it's such a hot and topical issue. But, when you go here, it's just total support."

Back on the bus, the ND-BG group kept discussing their feelings about the day.

"It was really nice. Everything that Trump said was really cool; he had a really nice speech," remarked Nicholas Mendonca.

"It was a really great first experience," said Joey Tortello. "I definitely want to come back next year. The march in general, and being in something like that -- it was amazing."