As they prepared for an overnight march around Queen Elizabeth Park, participants in this year’s Fort Smith Relay for Life were ecstatic to learn they had not only met their $150,000 fundraising goal, but had passed it by several thousand dollars.
Months of collecting pledges, holding barbecues and bake sales and selling temporary tattoos paid off as the volunteers realized they had collected $153,484, with even more funds set to roll in from last-minute donations.
“It’s that common purpose right? It’s very few people that can say they haven’t been touched by cancer,” said event coordinator Shari Olsen. “We all want it to go away.”
This year’s top-raising team was the Butterflies, who collected a total of $17,098.30. Two of their teammates, Tim Bye and Ann Lepine, were recognized as the top individual fundraisers for 2015 after collecting $5,500 and $5,400, respectively.
Sandy Poitras, on the Irene’s Brats team, also stood out as a top fundraiser, after collecting $4,351 selling her delicious homemade fry bread.
The achievement was celebrated as 149 participants – divvied up into 15 teams – walked from 7 p.m. Saturday until 7 a.m. Sunday, in an effort to display their support for those touched by cancer.
“We had a great turnout of survivors, some even stayed the night here and were there in the morning,” Olsen said. “We had also had our survivor reception on Friday and it was really nice just to get together, so the survivors know what it’s all about.”
As is tradition at every Relay for Life, a luminary ceremony was held at midnight as a moment to honour both cancer survivors and victims. About 1,014 paper bags, scrawled with messages of love, hope and loss, were dedicated to individuals afflicted by cancer and lined the track for the remainder of the evening.
“Everything went smoothly and everybody had a good time,” Olsen said. “This is the fastest night ever I remember for Relay. I don’t think I sat down for very long ever, there was just always something happening.”
Volunteer Andrea Steed helped the group stay awake with hourly activities, including themed laps where walkers wore superhero costumes or toilet-paper dresses, and “minute to win-it” challenges. Gerald Poitras also helped by spinning tunes as the official Relay DJ.
“The weather was great, the bugs were almost non-existent,” Olsen said, reflecting on the night. “It was just really great.”
Olsen also said she was proud of her community’s results. She compared them to Grande Prairie, Alta., a town with a population about 20 times bigger than Fort Smith, who happened to hold their Relay on the same day. With just over 50 registered teams, the southern city raised $62,175 as of June 13, a fraction of Fort Smith’s total.
All of the collected money will be donated to the Canadian Cancer Society, a national charity dedicated to funding cancer research, advocacy groups and support services for cancer patients and their families. The committee will be collecting funds until the end of July, Olsen said.