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Relay for Life

On a beautiful sunny day last year I turned up to be a member of a team in the Relay for Life.

In my ignorance I had little knowledge of the event other than it was 24-hours of walking around the NSC track for a Cancer charity.  A keen walker and having lost my father to cancer a few years ago it had made sense and in my mind it was a walk.  But it turned out to be much more than that.   I was touched by how it delightfully celebrated those cancer survivors dotted amongst the teams and how touchingly it allowed us to remember those who had lost their fight. 

This August sees the 5th event so we spoke with Nicola Walkingshaw, Chair of the Relay for Life Committee to find out a bit more...

What is the message behind the Relay for Life and who benefits from the funds raised?

Relay For Life is a community and volunteer led campaign to fundraise for Cancer Research UK (an Isle of Man Registered Charity).  The funds raised are in aid of Cancer Research UK, but the funds raised on the Isle of Man are nominated to go to treatment centres, research and trials in the North West which directly benefit Isle of Man cancer patients.  With research, people survive cancer, or prolong their lives and quality of life, and thanks to Cancer Research UK, survival rates are already so much better.

When was the first Relay for Life held of the Island and the inspiration behind the local event?

The first Relay was held on the Island in 2009, and was run by Gaynor Haxby and her committee as we didn't have a local event.  A small idea ended up raising over £43,000 for Relay.  Our family entered Relay in 2009, and in 2010, our mum (Dot Pitts, former Mayor of Douglas) had been battling cancer by then for over 3 years.  She took part in the Relay with us that year in her wheelchair.  We lost mum to cancer in November 2010, and then having registered our own charity in the meantime, with so many people wanting to donate in her memory, Dot's Dream Foundation entered a team in 2011.  We realised we could help the existing committee and build on the solid foundation of the event.  Everyone has a personal reason for getting involved.  For me, my sister Debbie survived cancer, my nana had cancer for 6 months before her death and received treatment and drugs which assisted her, and lastly my mum, who unfortunately also lost her battle in 2010, got to see me get married (and also my brother and my sister each got married during her illness), and she saw the birth of her first 3 grandchildren.  Mum had treatment with brand new drugs that were only available due to ongoing research, and she never would have had that time with us without it.

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Can you tell us what happens at the event.  I've heard rumours of men dressed as women doing the long-jump?!

The event itself is an inspirational community event, and has something for everyone.  It is a non-competitive walking relay around the track at the NSC for a whole 24 hours, so all ages and abilities can take part. 

The event goes ahead come rain wind or shine and is 24 hours to signify the fact that cancer never sleeps.  Teams of around 10-15 people get together and fundraise for Cancer Research UK during the year.  The Relay is a culmination and celebration of the teams acheivements, and we have built upon this to provide a family funday on the Saturday of the event.  We provide plenty of fun activities, including stalls, children's games, ice cream, and for teams, we hold regular theme laps (i.e. superheroes, rockstar laps, pyjamas) throughout the event, and games and competitions to keep the teams going.  Last year we held an inaugural 'Miss Relay' competition, which was for the men in our teams to compete in our very own pageant, compered by Dot Tilbury.  The contestants this year modelled dresses and wigs, and ran round the crowd filling handbags with money, and in some heats they did indeed do long jump in their dresses and heels!  We hope to run the very hotly contested and competitive event this year, and will have plenty of other things including a Fitsteps warm up for teams, choirs, singers, and other smaller displays and entertainment throughout the 24 hours.  There is also a memorial part of the event, which is the Candle of Hope ceremony.  This is the only time the Relay stops during the 24 hours at dusk on the Saturday, and candles are lit around the track in memory of those loved and lost, or those fighting their battles with cancer.  It is a really poignant but lovely part of the event where we share words, poems and keep a short silence in remembrance.  Survivors are also our VIP guests for the day, and get Relay underway at noon on the Saturday with an opening lap of honour.  A survivor is anyone who has ever heard the words 'you have cancer' and following the opening lap, our Survivors and a companion are invited to a VIP champagne reception afterwards.

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What one moment sticks in your mind from past a past Relay.

The moment that sticks in my mind from Relay last year was looking down at the crowd during the Candle of Hope ceremony, and realising quite how many people had been touched by cancer just in our relatively small community, and how many people had given up their time to support this event and fundraise.  A close second was making a closing address to all the participants at our closing ceremony, and doing the closing lap with the Committee and the teams who had all worked so hard to make the event such a great success, and make such a massive amount of money.  Seeing all of those people and knowing what a difference we would be making, meant so much.

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What would you love for the Relay to achieve this year?

Finally, we had a target last year of £50,000 (the most Relay had ever previously made on the Island, having made £133,000 in its first 3 years), and we smashed it, making over £63,000.  This year, we have put our target at £65,000 and hope to make our target at least, once more.

We are very lucky to have the support of Celton Manx, and 3FM. It would be great to see new teams and new participants, and in fact because we pushed the event so much last year, I'm delighted to say we already have

35 teams registered (we had a total of 33 last year, and only 12 this time last year were actually registered!), including long standing teams, and some new teams which is just brilliant.  The cause is amazing, but the event itself and the people that support it are amazing too.  A great experience for everyone in our community and a real celebration of their successes.

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What do people do to join in?

To get involved, people can register a team, donate to a team or an individual, run their own fundraising event for us, or simply volunteer to help us on our Relay weekend.  For more information, people can use the CRUK website which is www.cruk.org/relay. Nicola can be contacted on nicola@relay.co.im.

Article by Lisa Corkish.  Photos courtesy of Kim Hickling.  This year's Relay For Life Isle of Man is to be held on 23rd and 24th August 2014 at the NSC.