It’s always an emotional occasion.
But there were even more tears than usual at the Blackpool Race For Life this year, when this year’s special guest, cancer survivor Maxine Turley, had a surprise visit from her sister all the way from Peterhead, in Scotland.
Maxine, who lives in Poulton, was this year’s official race-starter and could not believe it when her sister, Nicola Clueit joined her up on-stage – having secretly signed up to take part in the event too.
As soon as Nicola, 48, heard Maxine was to play such an important role in the Cancer Research UK fundraising women-only event, she wanted to surprise her by turning up on the night to give her support.
Maxine, 45, was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma – a rare type of cancer, in 1984, when she was only 12 years old, after finding a lump on her eyelid which would not go away.
Maxine received radiotherapy and 18 months of intense chemotherapy, which caused all of her hair to fall out. She made a good recovery, but still has vivid memories of the treatment during her formative years.
When she was in her 30s, she began experiencing pain in her eye and eventually had to have had it removed.
Mum-of-two Maxine told the crowd of 1,500 women and girls – most of whom donned pink, the Race For Life colour – how she felt lucky and grateful to be here today.
Her wish is by telling her story, she will help to give others help.
The sisters hugged on-stage and wiped away a few tears as they got ready to run along the Promenade together. Maxine ran the first 5k with her sister and went on to do the full 10k.
Maxine said: “It was such a lovely evening. I did feel nervous about getting up on-stage and starting the race, but everybody was so lovely.
“The atmosphere was just great, a real sense of everyone together. Having my sister there was a surprise just made it even more special.”
Maxine said: “With my sister living in Scotland, the last time I saw her was December, though that was only brief. The last time I really got to see her properly was last summer.
“It was so wonderful to see her and run the first 5k together.
“It was an emotional evening, seeing all the signs on everyone’s backs – saying who they were running for or their reasons – makes you feel a bit tearful.
“But the Race For Life is also a real feel-good event, helping a good cause.”
And Nicola, who was in Blackpool with her husband Roger who had signed her up for the event, added: “We just wanted to come along and show our support for Maxine.
“We know what she has been through, and we are super proud of her.
“We were so glad she was able to get up there on-stage and to be able to be there to see it was wonderful.
“It was very emotional.
“It was a lovely event and the atmosphere was fantastic.”
Organisers estimate this year’s event has raised around £125,000.
The warm-up was led by Kelly and Jenny of Kelly Amelia’s Fitness Studio in Marton – joined on-stage by singing stars Cassie Compton and Lucie Jones, appearing in The Wedding Singer, at the Winter Gardens.
Blackpool Race For Life organiser Laura Taylor, said: “It’s so amazing to stand on-stage and see a massive sea of pink.
“We’ve had a lot of entrants signing up just in the last week which is fantastic.
“I want to thank each and every one of you for taking part and raising an amazing £125,000.”
After a minute’s silence to reflect on why they were there, Maxine sounded the klaxon and the 1,500 women, girls and boys – some joined by their pet dogs – started to run and walk across the start line to complete the 5 and 10k courses.
First home in the 5k run was 18-year-old Jessica Rogers, who finished in just over 21 minutes. She also finished first in last year’s event.
She said: “I think I was quicker than last year. I’m really pleased with how it went. I always enjoy taking part and raising money for a good cause.”
Belinda Houghton, 26, was the first to cross the finish line in the 10k category, in 48 minutes.
She said: “I’ve been doing Race For Life for 10 years.
“I just enjoy raising the money for charity, and being part of it. There’s always a good atmosphere.
“I was running in memory of my grandma Connie.”
There was a team of around 120 taking part from Race For Life partners Tesco, made up of all the stores across the Fylde coast.
Teacher Amy Leach, of South Shore Academy, was taking part with a team of staff and children from the school.
School receptionist Jane Tweddle, who was sadly killed in the Manchester terrorist attack in May, has been due to take part in the Race For Life.
Amy said: “It’s always a lovely, though emotional event.
“We like to take part because it raises money for such a good cause.
“There’s a great sense of camaraderie, always a good atmosphere, and cancer is something which everybody is affected by.
“It brings people together. And I think it’s nice as well for the students and teachers to see each other in a different environment.
“It really meant a lot to us this year.”
Also taking part were Caroline Ball and her son, 11-year-old cancer survivor Joe, of Lytham.
Joe was diagnosed with leukaemia just a week before he celebrated his fourth birthday.
Caroline said: “It was really good, I enjoyed it.
“It was great running with Joe, but he was quicker than me so he left me behind!
“As a family, we know what a great cause Cancer Research is and were more than happy to support it.
“We’ve raised around £700.”
And a team of 10 members and coaches from Fylde coast YMCA were taking part.
Amanda Jurin, one of the coaches, said: “I’ve been doing it for about eight years.
“It was very moving and emotional.
“It’s always such a great atmosphere and it’s a real good social event.
“Some of group were from our Couch to 5k programme who were taking part, and it was great to have members and coaches taking part as a team.
“It’s such a good cause.”