By Jessica Anstice
It was an emotional 18-hour walk for hundreds of people who took part in the Cancer Council’s annual Cardinia Relay for Life on Friday 21 and Saturday 22 February.
While numbers were down on last year, the weather held out and the atmosphere was equally as heart-warming.
“Attendance numbers were certainly down than previous years which was noticeable but that aside it was a successful event,” Cardinia Relay for Life chairman Mark Howard said.
Around 300 participants in 27 teams took part in the relay, which has so far raised more than $113,500 – with still more than four weeks of banking to go.
“That number will increase over the next month as banking will occur in March,” he explained.
“That amount of money is a great effort by the teams and it will go towards Cancer Council’s research, prevention, information and support services.”
This year’s highest fundraising team was Ford Fairlane and Classic Cruisers Motor Mouths, which raised more than $25,000.
Cardinia Relay for Life committee member Lee Hogervorst speculated the funds may have been down on last year due to the publics’ distribution of donations to other charities.
“I think that it is probably because of the bushfires,” she said.
“A lot of people have said that when it comes to giving donation dollars they’ve had to choose because everyone has only got so much money that they generally would give and we understand that.
“The bushfires happening down in East Gippsland over the Christmas break has really affected people in a big way.”
The event was officially opened on Friday evening by Cardinia shire’s senior citizen of the year, Robert Porter.
“The Relay for Life committee tends to choose someone who is citizen of the year to open the event and cut the ribbon,” Mr Howard said.
“Robert has been a really strong member of the local community for many years.”
Survivors and their carers led the opening lap of the all-night fundraising event at Toomuc Recreation Reserve.
“The survivors and carers walk was very emotional because they’re all there with their sashes on – it is always a highlight of the event,” he said.
Now in its eight year held in Pakenham, the Relay for Life event challenges teams to walk or run around the oval for 18 hours in memory of lost loved ones, in celebration of those who survived and as a reminder that cancer never sleeps.
As darkness closed in, teams paused the relay for a candlelight ceremony to honour loved ones lost to cancer and support those living with cancer.
Two students from John Henry Primary School spoke about the event and the importance of raising money for cancer research.
Michael Soutter, a Pakenham man who ran 160 kilometres around Pakenham’s Lakeside to raise funds for cancer research, gave a moving speech about how a cancer diagnosis also affects family members and friends.
Among those relaying was prominent member of the Pakenham community, Jack Mitchell, who was crowned with the Spirit of the Relay award on Saturday.
“Jack has gone through some battles himself but he has always got a big smile on his face,” Mr Howard said.
“He is just that person that’s really got their heart in the event.”
The cancer survivor and Where’s Wally Walkers team member walked laps around the reserve for his sixth executive year.
“This is our third year as Where’s Wally Walkers, originally we were Cancer Busting Fairies,” Mr Mitchell said.
“The Cancer Council has become very dynamic and the information we get from them all the time is terrific.
“In the early days it used to be a bit difficult to register but it’s not anymore. Now they almost bombard us with information which is what we need.”