Relay smashes fundraising ceiling

Louise Kohinski had every reason to smile this weekend.

Participating in her second Relay for Life, Kohinski represented one of four generations of her family circling the track in the 21st annual Prince George event.

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Kohinski has two big reasons to count herself among the blessed. One of them is her 93-year-old mother, Eva Ruest St. Pierre, a breast cancer survivor who lost four brothers and a sister to cancer.

Now the oldest of what started out as 11 siblings, Ruest St. Pierre is motivating her younger sisters who are now ill.

"She keeps phoning them and says 'you can't go before me,'" Kohinski said.

Another reason is her 39-year-old daughter Nikki Myers, who beat cervical cancer in 2005.

When you count in her seven-year-old grandson Iveniej Bilawchuck, born four years after his mother was told she probably wouldn't have any more children after beating cervical cancer, Kohinski's cup is overflowing.

"I'm very fortunate that they are still with us," she said. "God was with us all."

As part of Fern's Team, the family helped to raise more than $8,600, which is part of the $500,000 the 2013 Relay for Life brought in by the time the 24-hour event wrapped up Sunday morning.

"What else can you say, but 'wow,'" said Helen Owen, the Canadian Cancer Society's Relay for Life team leader, of the fundraising total.

And that number is bound to grow. Last year, the announced amount at the closing ceremony was $420,000, with $74,000 coming in the subsequent weeks.

Donations will continue to be accepted until July at the Canadian Cancer Society office at 1100 Alward St. or online at www.relaybc.ca.

The fundraising boost comes despite a slight decline in participants from last year, although there were more teams this year. According to Owen, there was a 25 per cent increase in the number of participants who raised $500 or more.

Among the new initiatives was the draw for a 2013 Dodge Dart, donated by Northland Chryslet Jeep Dodge. For every $500 a registered relay participant raised, they had one ticket placed in the draw.

The winner was Jeff Taylor, who raised $1,848.12 - one of the more than 20 people who registered to walk the full 24 hours.

Prince George has a strong community spirit and people who are passionate about the cause, said Owen, adding a festive atmosphere was kept up through the whole event.

"Even when we had the odd rain shower come through or in the middle of the night when it's pouring rain at four in the morning, there were a lot of people there on the track, people in their tents," she said.

This year, Liana Ziemer of the Pink Panters was the top individual fundraiser, bringing in $10,560 and Shelby McGraw of Daddy's Little Angels bought in $1,917.50 as the top youth fundraiser. Team Diller took home the top family team prize with $17,354.87 and the Costco Crusaders were the top corporate team, bringing in $12,000.85.

As one of the first relays to take place, Prince George has set a high bar and organizers are gunning for raising the most money. Last year, they came in second place to the Coquitlam relay, which raised $550,000. The lower mainland locale will hold their event June 1.

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