Col Reynolds OAM, founder of The Kids’ Cancer Project, is heading to South Australia in his big yellow bus to join Flagstaff Hill School as they walk on Friday 23 November in memory of a student who tragically passed away in 2015.
When he was four years old, Jai was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that almost uniquely effects children under five. He went through 18 months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and a stem cell transplant.
After months spent in hospital and loads of regular hospital visits, Jai’s cancer went into remission and he could do all the things other kids his age were doing.
By all accounts, Jai was a happy primary schooler who loved football, basketball and spending time with family and friends.
“But then at the start of the school year in 2013, Jai wasn’t at school assembly,” said Natalie Bunworth, a family friend. “His cancer had come back.”
After being so full of life, it was a devastating blow for the community to learn there was no cure for the seven-year-old boy’s relapsed neuroblastoma.
“Our local Flagstaff Hill community came together firstly, to support the family and give them quality time together,” said Natalie. “Then we realised the only thing that would really help Jai was to find a cure.”
“After some research we found that The Kids’ Cancer Project were an Australian charity focused on research into childhood cancers and particularly finding a cure for the more rare cancers such as neuroblastoma,” she said.
Friends and family formed “Jai’s Falcons” and started raising money for childhood cancer research by holding cake stalls, bingo nights, bike rides and school walkathons.
“One of our biggest events was the City-Bay Fun Run in 2014, which generated over $32,000 in donations,” said Natalie “We had 75 people participate and over half were kids under 12 running for their mate.”
Jai's Falcons City-Bay Fun Runners.
Science gave Jai a little more time. He was put onto a clinical trial that slowed the cancer’s progress. All the while, his biggest concern was not being able to go to school and kick a footy around. Then, on 5 March 2015, just before his tenth birthday, he passed away.
“Jai will always be nine while his mates will grow older, go to high school, start dating, learn to drive, go to work and have families of their own,” said Natalie.
“We will forever keep Jai in our hearts and remember him for his love of sport, determination to get out there and play with his mates and his passion for his beloved Falcons and mighty Geelong,” she said.
Jai with his family in Melbourne.
Jai’s Falcons continue to carry out the young sportsman’s wishes by funding research to find kinder, more effective treatments so that other kids and families don’t have to suffer. The school walk-a-thon is just one annual activity - the community also hold the Flagstaff Hill Football Club Gold Round and around 70 still run the City-Bay every year. All money raised goes to The Kids’ Cancer Project.
"Jai's Walk". The Flaggstaff Hill School Walk-a-thon raised $50,000 in 2015.
“Jai had so much compassion for others,” said Col Reynolds. “And I hear he had a wicked sense of humour to go with that cheeky grin.”
“I am just so impressed with the way his Flagstaff community have rallied to fund medical research to help kids like him,” Col said. “And I’m deeply honoured to have been invited to be part of the school walk-a-thon named after such a remarkable young fellow.”
Owen Finegan, former Wallaby and The Kids’ Cancer Project CEO will also be joining the walk.
“I’ve long wanted to meet the people of Flagstaff who inspire me day after day, year after year with their determination,” said Owen.
“To date, they have raised over $80,000 earning them a Hero Award for commitment in commemoration of our twenty-fifth anniversary. The team were unable to come to Sydney for the event so it’s with great pleasure Col and I can personally say thank you while walking in Jai’s honour.”
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