An oath is read at the beginning and end of each Relay for Life event, stating that the participants are there to “celebrate the lives of cancer survivors, to support those fighting cancer, and to honour those who we have lost”.
It’s a commitment symbolised in “every step we take, each and every one moving us nearer to our goal of a cancer-free world for future generations”. And it’s one they take very seriously.
So seriously in fact that the 200 or so people in 23 teams who took part in this year’s Latrobe Relay for Life have just raised a rather stunning $85,749. And because most of the needed goods and services are donated, just about all of it goes to Cancer Council Victoria.
Teams have raised that money over the last 12 months, culminating with their event at the Tyers Recreation Reserve where they walked around the oval in relay for 18 continuous hours, beginning at 4pm Saturday (19 Oct).
Money still to be received by the organising committee over the next couple of weeks will boost that 2019 total even more.
Chair of the Latrobe RFL organising committee, Sue Van Heurck, said that amount just “blows my mind.”
Participants fundraise and walk willingly and eagerly. Not even adverse weather conditions, or taking their turn on the track at 3am, can deter the many hardy souls.
“It’s a real family and friends event,” Sue said.
“I think our youngest one here was about 13 months old and I’m not sure, but I think the oldest person was pretty close to 90.”
Friends, businesses and schools form teams, including St Paul’s Anglican Grammar School which has been sending a grade 6 team from their Traralgon campus for the last 10 years.
This was the fourth Relay for the Tyers and Yallourn North primary schools, and the first year for the Traralgon College Titans. There was also a group of teenagers from Toongabbie known as the Pinky Dinky Doos!
“Everyone’s here for the same reason and that is we’ve all been touched by cancer in some way – whether it’s a family member or friend, a work colleague, or someone we just know as a friend of a friend,” Sue said.
“Everyone’s touched by cancer and would love to live in a world where we didn’t have this insidious disease.”
This was the 18th Latrobe Relay for Life and before this year, more than $1.2 million had been raised for cancer research, public education and support services. The 2019 amount will now boost that close to $1.3 million.
“The money is used mainly for research,” Sue said. “That’s a really big part of Cancer Council’s work, and it’s research for all cancers, not just one.”
“Also, an enormous amount of work goes into education people, getting people proactive in having early checks and diagnosis, as well as supporting anyone and their families who do have cancer.”
Six teams this year raised more than $5000 each, qualifying them for a research award being named in their honour.
It’s all done in a fun atmosphere of live music and a dance hour, and side activities like croquet and limbo comps. Team members dress in weird and wonderful costumes, and some have crazy hair and wigs.
The one solemn moment is at sunset. Three candles are lit during a Candlelight Ceremony – one for the past, keeping memories alive; one for the present, a symbol of support and love; and one for the future, a symbol of hope.
In an era when volunteerism is waning, Sue’s eager committee of nine pull together quite an amazing event. But none morso than Sue Van Heurck herself, who lives and breathes Relay 52 weeks a year.
“Relay for Life is not just an event, it’s an experience, Sue said.
“It’s an experience that is almost impossible to explain unless you have been a part of it.”
Dare the organisers hope for 30 teams in 2020? Friends, workplaces, schools and community groups are being encouraged to check out the Relay for Life web site and give serious thought to taking part.