Ross Cullen was all laughs on Saturday as he marched around Blake Park with a viking hat perched on his head for the first lap of the Relay for Life.
The smiles were in spite of the serious aim behind the event and the fact the 48-year-old from Papamoa has attended at least four funerals over the past 18 months for victims of cancer _ including that of his older brother, Chris, who lost his battle with prostate cancer last August.
Now, one of his closest friends has been told he has a life- threatening brain tumour.
"Everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer and often it's closer to home than we think," he said.
Taking part in his second Tauranga Relay for Life event with work mates from Specialised Con tainer Services, he wanted to push himself to honour his loved ones.
Despite arthritis in his ankle, he challenged himself to walk the entire 20 hours to raise at least $200.
Before he set off, he said, "`I'm probably going to think, what am I doing' and then I will remember how much other people are suffer ing."
Mr Cullen's team, the Mad Hatters, was one of 47 teams at the fourth annual event in Mount Maunganui.
Running from 2pm Saturday til 10am Sunday, the teams were challenged to keep their batons moving around the field for the entire 20 hours.
More than 700 people took part and it was hoped up to $100,000 would be raised to support the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Cancer Society.
Last year, around $94,000 was raised by 640 participants.
The first lap, the Survivors' Lap, was to honour those who have overcome cancer, while at dusk, everyone gathered in front of the stage for the Candlelight Ceremony to remember those who lost the battle.
As Luke Thompson sang, the candles were placed on the ground to form the word, Hope.
Later, as the walkers began their night's journey, the candles were moved alongside the track to illuminate their way.
Mr Cullen ended his 20-hour walk by treating himself to a pancake breakfast with his team at their tent.
Funding from the Relay for Life goes towards support services, education on cancer and funds research into causes, prevention and treatment.
Held in 20 countries around the world, Relay for Life has become the biggest fundraiser for cancer, with Tauranga being one of 17 locations in New Zealand.
Relay for Life honours loved ones lost to cancer
By Lauren Owens
9:00 AM Monday Mar 30, 2009
By Lauren Owens