THE coldest day since mid December was no deterrent to the 520 brave and hearty walkers at the South Gippsland Relay For Life as they trudged on through the night, completing lap after lap of Terrill Park in Fish Creek over the weekend.
The sense of community could not be missed as walkers intermingled with people they had never met and shared the walk and the talk about their reasons for participating.
An incredible effort by 21 teams from Korumburra through to Toora resulted in a fundraising total of more than $73,000 for the Cancer Council of Victoria.
Irene Gale, Chairperson of the local committee, told walkers how the group’s original target was upgraded twice by the Cancer Council before the relay even began, and then blasted out of the water by the teams participating.
She thanked teams for their creativity and initiative in conducting a range of fundraising activities that included visits to local landmarks such as the Great Southern Rail Trail, trivia and pamper nights, high teas, movie nights and an endless array of food stalls.
Melissa Holland, the committee’s Cancer Council representative, assured walkers that the whole amount raised will stay in Victoria to fund programs searching for cures, supporting cancer patients and their loved ones and providing cancer prevention education. She congratulated teams on their incredible efforts and thanked the committee for their dedication and long hours of work.
The Relay kicked off with the Survivors and Carers lap, dedicated to those people and their loved ones whose lives have been touched by cancer. It was an emotional moment for all present as the crowd spread around the oval to applaud these special walkers, before joining in and continuing the walk.
Dr Sarah White, Director of Quit Victoria, opened the Fightback Hour, the educational component of the Relay where walkers were given ideas and strategies for lifestyle changes that could help prevent cancer.
A highlight of the Relay was the traditional Candlelight Ceremony, a time to remember those lost to cancer and to show support for those living with it. Walkers placed candle tribute bags containing personal messages of love and support around the track which lit up the way as they continued to burn throughout the night.
Three special candles were lit to represent the past, present and future. Bill Rodda, representing the Korumburra Fire Brigade, spoke movingly about the cancer journey his wife Maureen went through before losing her battle last year. Bill was accompanied up on stage by his grandchildren who gave him loving support to help him through his emotional speech.
Jan Martin from Team Poppa represented the present hope, speaking about her family and friends’ unwavering support for a family member currently living with cancer.
Evie Bassed, a Grade 4 student from Fish Creek, was the voice of the future hope for cancer patients. Evie gave a beautifully-worded speech about her involvement in the Relay, stemming from her support for a friend whose family was touched by cancer last year. Evie organised the selling of bunches of flowers in Sandy Point and thanked those who gave them flowers to sell as well as those who didn’t know that they had donated flowers to sell!
Walkers came and went throughout the night. Some tried to snatch some sleep on site, while others went back home for a few hours before returning for breakfast. It was incredible to see teams continuing to play tag as the early hours approached and the night air became chilly. Their enthusiasm was not dampened for a minute as they trudged on, chatting quietly to others on the track and helping themselves to free tea and coffee to keep their eyes open for just a bit longer!
Dot and Dave Christie fired up the barbecue early on Sunday morning to provide egg and bacon sandwiches for breakfast – a welcoming warm relief to walkers as the sun rose over Fish Creek and the 2016 campaign came to an end.
Four team captains were presented with Cancer Council Research Awards for raising more than $5000 each. The final fundraising total won’t be known until mid April as teams continue to collect their fundraising monies, but the one thing organisers do know is that this was a hugely successful Relay. They congratulate all involved and hope to see you all again next year as Fish Creek takes it on again for the last time before handing the baton to another South Gippsland town.