Relay for life: Lap of honour

May 26, 2017


Each year many thousands of Aussies put their best feet forward in organised fundraising walks and runs for worthy causes. Not many of these, however, require participants to keep going through the entire night as Relay for Life does.

Relay for Life events are held around the world to raise funds for cancer research, with more than 200 relays held across Australia annually.

The first event was held in Tacoma, Washington, US, in May 1985 when surgeon Dr Gordy Klatt ran (and walked) around an athletics track for 24 hours to increase awareness of cancer, raising US$27,000 in the process.

Since then, Relay for Life has become the world’s largest fundraising event for cancer research, with around four million people in more than 20 countries taking part in the overnight event. 

The first Aussie relay, held in 1999 in Victoria, raised $75,000. They are now held in every state and territory, with around 134,000 participants raising more than $24 million each year. Teams of up to 15 walk the circuit, setting up campsites in preparation for the long night ahead. The format is important. The first lap honours cancer survivors and carers who are cheered on as they take to the track. 

The second lap is completed by all team members walking together. From then, team members take turns walking throughout the night, with darkness symbolising the fear a patient feels when diagnosed. After sunset, candles are lit to remember those lost and the end of the walk is marked by a celebratory breakfast.

Judy Robertson, who volunteers on the WA’s Relay for Life committee, says the events are emotional and healing. She has dealt with several bouts of cancer, including in 2013 when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She says she was “determined to keep going as much as I could” and, after a year of chemotherapy and radiotherapy “knocked the cancer for six”.

Judy now coordinates the survivors and carers honour lap, the afternoon tea with the WA governor and the photo-tribute slideshow during the candlelight ceremony to honour those lost to cancer.

She is also captain of her team “Thousand Reasons”, a family affair with three generations of relatives.

“The kids look forward to it each year, to catch up with friends and to experience the joy and emotion of Perth Relay,” Judy says.

“When life gives you one hundred reasons to cry, it also gives you one thousand reasons to smile.”

Like the symbolism of Relay for Life’s walk through the night, we have God’s promise that not only will he walk with us through our dark times, but that a new day will dawn. “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30, verse 5).


Upcoming Relays for Life include Ipswich (Qld) 27 May; Bunbury (WA) 28 May; Groote Eylandt (NT) 10 June. For information on events later this year go to


Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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