RELAY for Life stalwarts Jeannie and Neil Martin of Allansford were honoured to officially start the Warrnambool event at the weekend.
Mr and Mrs Martin, who have had their own personal journeys with cancer, have completed every Relay for Life since the fund-raiser began in the city in 2003.
Mr Martin read the relay’s oath that outlined the event’s mission while Mrs Martin cut the ribbon to send the 1200 participants on their way around the Deakin Oval circuit.
Both hope they serve as inspiration that people can have fruitful lives after surviving cancer. Mrs Martin, 68, had breast cancer 10 years ago and Mr Martin, 70, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1986.
For the past nine years, Mrs Martin has led the VOBS team that is underpinned by her former colleagues at Warrnambool West Primary School, where she had worked as a teacher’s aid.
A drop in VOBS team members to nine this year led it to merge with a CFA team, but the Martins have been through the ebb and flow of team numbers over the past 12 years and were confident VOBS’s membership would rise again.
They said the event had lost none of its appeal and were chuffed that more young people were taking part through various school groups.
Mr Martin said the event reinforced his appreciation of surviving lung cancer in the late 1980s when the chances of recovery were less than one per cent.
“Since then there have been advances in research and medicine that have given people a much better chance of survival,” he said.
The King’s Crusaders were among the new kids on the block at this year’s relay and they revelled in the experience.
The team, comprising 23 year 11 students from King’s College plus seven teachers and parents, had its own competition to see which members could complete the most laps.
Team captain Matt Jellie said many student members of the team had vowed to stay awake for the event’s entire 18 hours but he expected their enthusiasm to wane about 3am-4am.
Mr Jellie said the college decided to enter a team in the relay to encourage students to take part in their community and understand that everyone was touched by cancer in some way.
Team members raised funds for the Cancer Council by selling lollies and drinks to cyclists participating in last year’s Great Victorian Bike Ride through the south-west, running sausage sizzles and giving and collecting donations.
A three-year veteran of the event was the Heather’s Heroes team that takes part to honour the late Heather Worrall of Port Campbell, who died from liver cancer more than two years ago.
Heather’s husband Hugh said the team comprised four generations of the Worrall family including his 87-year-old mother, grandchildren as young as 18 months and many of Heather’s friends.
“It’s a big family and friends event,” he said.
Mr Worrall said the candle ceremony to remember those who died from cancer was very emotional but taking part had helped in the grieving process.
Participant Michael Grayling clocked up his 392nd Relay for Life at Warrnambool and expects to notch his 400th at Berwick on March 14.
Mr Grayling, 57, of Melbourne, did much of the 18-hour Warrnambool event before catching trains to take part in the Bairnsdale relay on Saturday night, lifting his relay tally to 393.
He has been doing relays since 1999 after surviving testicular cancer and lymphoma that was diagnosed in 1980.
The deaths of both his mother and father to cancer in 2012 have spurred him to continue his awesome mission.
His impressive achievement led to his award of the title of 2013-14 Relay Global Hero of Hope by the American Cancer Society.
Mr Grayling said his participation in the relays made his cancer experience easier. “It’s like an open-air counselling forum,” Mr Grayling said.
“It can be very difficult but it can be very positive,” he said.
The Warrnambool relay, which attracted its highest ever number of participants, raised nearly $100,000 for the Cancer Council.
Chairwoman Fran Hynes said 1429 people took part.
“It went really well,” she said.
“We were very happy. It was a really delightful event that had a great feeling around it.”
Mrs Hynes said hot weather on Saturday forced organisers to finish proceedings earlier than usual.
“It started to get really hot in the morning so we wound up early,” Mrs Hynes said.
This years ‘circus’ theme was well supported with participants dressing up as musicians, acrobats and clowns.
“It’s a huge community event,” Mrs Hynes said. “We are very appreciative of the great support of the community.”
Warrnambool Relay for Life has raised more than $1.5 million since 2003 thanks to year-round fund-raising building up to the main annual event.