Since starting in 1994 with just 680 participants, Race for Life has become the biggest female-only fundraising event in the UK. Hannah Gannagé-Stewart caught up with Gloria Hunniford to find out more about the race and her role as patron of Cancer Research.
Over £493m has been raised for charity since Cancer Research UK established Race for Life in 1994. What it is about the event that makes it so unique and inspiring?
It’s really emotional to witness. The London events alone attract thousands of women. In Battersea park you will see around 6,500 and in the City 10,000, all running with one cause in mind. If you put a group of women together anywhere you get lively conversation and a lot of empathy, but put them together in an emotional and fun environment like Race for Life does, and the atmosphere is absolutely electric.
Where can Race for Life take Cancer Research UK in the future?
It really helps to raise the profile of the charity. A lot of people feel helpless if they’ve got cancer in their family but the thing about Race for Life is that anyone can do it. It’s only 5km so you can walk it, crawl it, run it, stroll it, take the pram or take the dog.
Have you ever run it?
I keep promising myself that I will, but so far my schedules never allowed it! I have done the Pink Power Walk, which was set up by a friend of Caron’s to raise money for breast cancer. And I will be at the Hyde Park Race for Life on the 18th July as part of my role as Patron.
How long have you been patron of Race for Life?
In the year that my daughter died they asked me if I would become patron. I was very pleased to do it because I feel that I have a common purpose with all those people running in support or in memory of loved ones suffering from cancer. It’s very emotional when you see the photographs on their backs. We all want as much research done as possible to beat this ghastly disease, which has no respect for the type of person you are or whether you lead a healthy life or not. I think Caron lead a very healthy life, she exercised, was a healthy weight and ate all the right things but when it hits it doesn’t matter who or what you are.
What does being patron for Race for Life entail?
Signing and sending letters, encouraging people to get involved or appealing for sponsorship. Then of course, there are the interviews, as well as turning up to one of the London events. It’s about profile really… and empathy. Losing a child, in my opinion, is the worst thing that could ever happen. I’ve lost parents, I’ve lost grandparents, I’ve lost a former husband and I’ve lost a child so it doesn’t matter what photo is on anybody’s back, I know how they feel. No one is more important than the other but I know the depths that losing a child can bring you to and it’s that empathy that I feel with the other women I meet during the course of Race for Life.
Do you get a chance to speak to people personally about your shared experience?
Yes, I think that they feel they know me as a friend, I think people have always felt they can come up and talk to me. I’m always glad to try and be of comfort if I can. Shortly after Caron died I was in a car park and a woman in the parking space next to me approached me and told me she had lost her son recently, so the two of us just stood there and comforted each other, gleaning comfort as complete strangers. So if anything it’s made me a more compassionate person.
When did you first realise you could make a difference through charity work?
My mother taught me that we have to give back so I’ve always been involved in charities, but this is the first time I’ve ever run one.
You set up the Caron Keating Foundation in memory of your daughter, how does running your own charity affect your everyday life?
I personally stand over every penny that’s raised through the foundation, it’s part of my healing and a coping mechanism to be doing something positive for Caron. I’m very hands on in deciding with a couple of doctor friends as to how the money should be spent. I open all the letters because they come to my house and I check it and double check it before we decide how the money is going to be spent. It’s a very personal service in that sense and I think Caron would be very proud of what we are doing in her name, I think she would be amazed really.
How does the money get spent?
We do lots of small payouts, so if someone needs £3743.16 for a counselling service or art therapy course for example, that’s exactly what they will get. The most we’ve ever paid to one organisation was £30,000 for a hospice. We’ve also just given £25,000 for the second year running to pay for a radiographer on Action Cancer’s Big Bus in Northern Ireland. It travels to housing estates and factories and offers mammograms to women who fall outside the national health practice, usually younger girls and single mums who don’t have time to get screened.
We know that early detection is very important with cancer, do you think it’s safe to say that more emphasis is put on recovery these days?
Thank goodness the facts and figures are better these days. A lot more people are beating cancer, particularly men’s cancers. Great strides have been made in treatment since Caron died, sadly it all came too late for her, but the improvements are marvellous.
Are the rest of the family involved in the Caron Keating Foundation?
Both of my sons are involved. For instance one of them does all the technical stuff and lighting. My other son is very social and is good at getting people to attend and getting auction prizes in for events. Caron’s boys get involved in the fun things like the Pinktober, Women that Rock event at The Albert Hall.
With your busy schedule is it hard to find time to spend with your grandchildren?
I’m no different to any other grandmother who enjoys her grandchildren. We have 9 between us and they’re just a joy to be with. I’m probably at my best when I’m with my family and my grandchildren. We go down to Cornwall to see the ones down there and 4 of my grandchildren live just half an hours drive away so I get to see them a lot. It’s quite funny really, their social lives are so busy now, that I have to fit into their diary!
Cancer Research UK's Race for Life is the most successful and largest women-only fundraising series in Britain, with over 230 events taking place every year. Women from across the UK come together to walk, jog or run 5k or 10k, and raise as much money as possible to help beat cancer. Find out more on the Race for Life website.
This article was first published in Charity Choice magazine