‘Relay’ raises over $54,000

Bryce Forbes

The organizers for the Canadian Cancer Society “Relay for Life” definitely made the right decision.
After a somewhat disappointing relay last year with only 14 teams participating, John Homer said the committee mulled over the idea of taking a year or two hiatus from the event.
“It was 10 years in and it was hard to get people to volunteer and committee members,” said Homer, head organizer for this year’s relay.
“It was even hard to get teams involved now, cause now it’s an old thing, something they have done in the past,” he added.
But they decided to give it one more chance.
And I’m sure the Canadian Cancer Society cannot thank the decision enough. The relay, held last Friday at Fort High, raised more then $54,000, smashing last year’s total of around $40,000.
The 21 participating teams also helped Northwestern Ontario break another record, raising more than $400,000 for the first time ever.
“We were the last relay in Northwestern Ontario and we really wanted to hit $400,000, and before our relay, we were at $384,000,” said Homer. “We shattered that with about $435,000.”
(Also contributing to that total was the relay in Rainy River the week before which raised around $55,000).
Twelve-year-old Madisyn DeGagne picked up a couple of honours as top individual fundraiser with around $2,400 as well as leading her team, “Pink Attitude: Second Generation”, win the top decorated campsite.
Their site was entitled “Pirates of the Cure-A-Bbean: Quest for the Cure” and was lavished with two wooden ships, waves, palm trees, and tiki torches.
“It wasn’t even an option to pick anyone else,” said Homer.
“The teams went above and beyond decorating their campsites this year,” he added.
For the first time in history, the award as top team fundraiser was not given out in the morning because four teams were so close, it needs to be recounted.
The squads captained by DeGagne, Anneda Chabot, Kyleigh Ossachuk and Linda Angus were all within $200 of each other at around the $4,000 mark.
An audit of all the funds will need to be done before a final winner will be named.
The 12-hour relay could not have asked for better weather for the event. Early Friday morning, it looked like Mother Nature might put a little damper on the event with weather forecasters calling for rain.
But she smiled down on the competitors, bringing out sunshine, a few clouds, and most importantly—no storms.
This year also marked the first time the relay was held at Fort Frances High School, after it was recommended to the organizers to move it away from the old venue of Pither’s Point Park
“Before the event, my wife (Cindy) and I took like 40 calls in one weekend that was all negative about us switching it,” said Homer.
“Once the event happened, I never heard a negative thing after that. Everyone was like ‘This is great, this is an awesome place.’
“I almost wanted it to pour rain in the middle of the night just to show the versatility of the venue, because if it would have poured we were ready to go right into the gym and the people would have walked the hallways and shown how good the venue was,” he continued.
“The only downfall of the new venue is that there is no power to the camp sites. But if you can’t get through one night with your camper running off a battery or generator, then you probably have problems.”
Lisa Hammond, a member of Team Australia, did not have a conclusive answer when asked about the new venue.
In her fourth relay, she said, “I haven’t decided on that yet, I’ll have to see how the evening goes. It’s definitely different but so far it’s seems to be not so bad.”
She missed the coziness Pither’s Point offered, as well as being beside a lake which had more nature appeal.
“I can’t guarantee that we will be back there next year, but I can’t see why we wouldn’t be back here,” said Homer.
The organizers also brought in the Survivor’s Dinner for the first time, with Homer said he expects will be back again next year.
“I spent a couple of hours at the Survivor’s Dinner at Boston Pizza and talking to the survivors, they loved it,” he said
“They thought it was a good thing and asked for it to be back again next year.
“Boston Pizza was a huge supporter in making sure it happened, shutting down the restaurant for two hours and just letting the bar side open. I didn’t know until the morning of what they were putting on the menu. They went above and beyond with ribs and tons of stuff on the menu.
“The nice part is that all the expenses for the meal, none of it came out of pledge money which the hard-worked pledgers raised. We raised it separately so it didn’t pull out of the money raised by the relayers.”
The other sponsors of the dinners were M&M Meat Shops, Clark Allen Chiropractic, the Fort Frances Times, and Green Funeral Home.
“The survivor dinner was a really nice touch,” said Linda Angus, a breast cancer survivor.
“Just got all the survivors together and see how many are out there, it was really nice,” she continued, who was participating in her eighth relay and has been a perennial top fundraiser.
She was also one of many people who shaved their heads in support of cancer.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what I had to when I think of my kids and grandkids so anything to help find a cure,” when asked why she cut her hair.
“It wasn’t as hard when I lost my hair. I cried my eyes out then, but it is hard, and it’s hard when you first see the people you know, but it’s worth it.”
Lorne Nelson from Dryden was one of the entertainment acts who helped charm the crowd throughout the long night. Kings of None also spent time on the stage while the Rainy Lake Highlanders helped kick start the night during the Survivor’s Lap.
The girls of Energy Fitness helped warm up the participants during the opening ceremonies while different teams held events during the relay to raise some more money.
Minnow racing, a laser light show, laser tag, treasure hunts, duct tape and paper fashion show and casino night were a few of the activities.
Chabot’s team, “Countries for a Cure,” made glass-bead bracelets to help raise money. After originally making over 600, the group left the relay with about a dozen left.
But she noted while she was at the library, people were already asking for more.
With the hard economic times and uncertain future, it didn’t hinder the relay too much, according to Homer.
“Last year, the economy has hurt us a little bit,” he said. “Atitibi being in receivership and we didn’t get anything from them this year.
“Typically, it’s the big places where we get the four and five thousand dollar donations but the economy is turning around and you can see it with the $45,000-55,000 dollar range so people are starting to loosen up a bit.”
Ossachuk saw first hand how the money from the cancer society can help cancer victims.
Four years ago, she was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma after experiencing back pain.
“When I was in Winnipeg for my radiation, obviously my parents couldn’t take a whole month off of work to come out,” she said. “If I ever needed a ride to my treatment, I could just call them and they would arrive for a van and volunteers to come and pick me up.
“They were very helpful and courteous and see if I needed any help. They would call and confirm if I still needed a ride or anything like that.
“The cookies and coffee while your waiting for your treatment, are the little things that make it more bearable. It was nice to have somebody there when my parents or family couldn’t make it. They were kind of like your little extended family.”
In her fourth relay and first as captain of Team Greece, she still feels the support.
“As I was doing the first lap here, I was walking with a volunteer here who I met when I was having chemo,” noted Ossachuk.
“We bonded and she has been on our relay team ever since. She has been a special part of our year and a half process with cancer. She pointed at a bunch of luminaries and said ‘Look!’” she added.
“Sure some of them were from family but some are also from friends, and think, they took the time to make a luminary and remember that this is a time for survivors and gives you a little boost to keep on going.”
The luminaries were once again apart of the festivities with over 1,000 being sold in the days leading up and during the event.
“It’s awesome to see the people are aware and paying attention, showing their support even if they couldn’t be here in person,” said Ossachuk.
She has seen the relay change over the last few years and imagines she will be back at it again next year.
“There are so many people, and it was great to have all the support,” she said. “I’ve heard of it, but you never think of actually doing it cause when your 18 years old, you never think you are going to get cancer but it happens to everybody so it was a little bit of an eye opener to see how many people it affected.
“The first year I did it, we kind of threw everything together really quickly cause we wanted to show our support and there wasn’t too many people there,” she continued. “As the years went on, there were more and more people. Last year, it kind of dwindled out a little bit but this year, it’s bigger and better then ever.”
In the end, Homer would like to pass on his gratitude.
“Thank you to all of the participants who were involved and all the sponsors,” said Homer.
“A huge thank you to Greg Scott, the head of the janitorial staff at Fort High. He was there all night long. His job was to just be there and make sure it was okay, he went so above and beyond what he was supposed to do. He was a huge part of making the night a successful one.”