Relay for Life returns

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo The Hay River Community Champion for the Relay for Life was Kelsey McGinley, who was diagnosed with cancer in February.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
The Hay River Community Champion for the Relay for Life was Kelsey McGinley, who was diagnosed with cancer in February.

Relay for Life – a national fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society – has made a successful return to Hay River.

The event surpassed its fundraising goal of $50,000, said Rachel Daigneault-Durocher, the chair of the organizing committee.

“I’m very happy about that,” she said, adding an exact total was not known as of June 25.

The overnight event began at 7 p.m. on June 24 and ended at 7 a.m. on June 25.

There were 78 participants in 10 teams, numbers which also pleased Daigneault-Durocher.

Relay for Life was last held in Hay River in 2012, and a scheduled event in 2014 did not take place because of a shortage of volunteers.

Shari Burnstad, who was chair of the three previous Relays for Life in Hay River in 2008, 2010, 2012, was pleased to see the event return.

“They’ve done a really good job,” she said of the new organizing committee. “I think it’s good to see the young people stepping up to the plate because it’s our future really.”

She was ready to chair the Relay for Life in 2014, but only she and five other members of the now-defunct Hay River Lions Club were interested in helping out.

Burnstad was asked if she thought the Relay for Life might have been gone for good from Hay River when not enough volunteers got involved in 2014.

“No. I thought somebody would pick it up,” she said. “It would take a while but they would pick it up.”

Nikki Grobbecker, the Yellowknife-based revenue development co-ordinator with the Canadian Cancer Society, was also happy to see Relay for Life return to Hay River.

“It’s awesome. It’s been away for four years,” she said. “Two years ago it was supposed to happen in Hay River. So it’s very exciting and empowering for us that this event has come back to this community.”

Grobbecker said the organizing committee did an amazing job.

The Relay for Life in the South Slave will now return to a rotation between Fort Smith and Hay River, meaning the next one in Hay River won’t be until 2018. In the South Slave, Relay for Life began in Fort Smith in 2006.

This year’s event took place on the track of Diamond Jenness Secondary School.

Participants were welcomed and thanked during an opening ceremony.

Mayor Brad Mapes offered a welcome from the Town of Hay River and thanked organizers for making it happen, and also thanked the participants and those who donated to the cause.

“As you guys all walk tonight, you’ll be able to remember a lot of loved ones that we’ve lost over the years,” said Mapes. “They’ll walk alongside of you.”

Grobbecker also expressed appreciation to the participants.

“We’re here as a community to raise more funds to create more survivors and help more people fighting cancer in our community,” she said. “No matter how much you raised, thank you.”

Grobbecker also said Relay for Life couldn’t happen without dedicated volunteers who have been working tirelessly.

“When I came into this position just over two years ago, I was informed that Hay River was not going to be having their relay two years ago,” she said. “So I am very happy to say that we had a group of committed individuals bring it back this year.”

The relay began with a special lap of the track by about a dozen cancer survivors, all wearing distinctive yellow T-shirts.

The Hay River Community Champion for the relay was Kelsey McGinley, who was diagnosed with cancer in February.

“I was really happy that they asked me to be a part of the event, and it was a real honour,” said McGinley. “And I’m glad to be here.”

Members of the various teams took turns walking around the track.

It was lined with luminaries, which are paper bags partially filled with sand and containing candles that were lit later in the evening.

The three previous Relays for Life in Hay River raised more than $400,000 in total.

–Paul Bickford