health

Sport on Saturdays: Meet Annie Crawford. She's raised $13.3m for cancer research.

A big group of Can Too’ers

By NATALIA HAWK

When someone in your life is affected by cancer, it’s often difficult to know how to react.

You want to fix things. You want to make them all better again. But you can rarely do anything to remedy the situation – and that can leave you feeling pretty helpless.

Annie Crawford was left feeling helpless when she lost her father to bowel cancer. She wanted to raise money for cancer research, but she wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.

Annie had a background in social work and human resources, as well as a lifelong passion for running and fitness. And so she decided to start up an entirely new training program that somehow brought running and fundraising together.

With that decision, Can Too was born. It’s a non-for-profit organisation that runs group fitness sessions and puts together training programs for people who want to kick a fitness goal, while encouraging them to raise money for Cure Cancer Australia.

Can Too currently trains 9500 people in three different states (NSW, VIC and QLD) and so far, they’ve managed to raise $13.3 million dollars. Which is a whole lot of money for those who need it most.

I had a chat to Annie to find out more about Can Too and what motivates her to do what she does. Her insights were fascinating.

Nat: Why do people join Can Too?

Annie: We train people towards different goals that they want to achieve – such as run a 10km, run a half marathon, do an ocean swim or do a triathlon.

We train people for a lot of different reasons. Some people want to get fit and healthy, they’ve run a 5k but feel they need support to further their goals. Others join because their friend or family died of cancer – after all, its not just your journey, you’re giving back to the community with fundraising to cure cancer.

We started in 2005, the first night we had seven people and by the end of the first program we had 54 who raised $105,000. Now it’s been a huge success, far more than i ever imagined when I first stood there on the first night, scared stiff that no one would turn up at all.

N: Have you always had an interest in health and fitness? What kind of exercise do you typically do?

Annie running

A: I’ve always been active and being doing long distance training for 25 years now. I was always athletic at school, always really been interested in a health and fit lifestyle… in moderation, though! I still like drinking on Friday nights.

I typically do running (about 50km per week), weights, yoga, triathlon (bike, swim and run). All through summer I do the swimming program because we have programs going throughout the year and I need to stay fit all through the year. I exercise six days per week.

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N: So how does Can Too work, exactly?

A: You come along twice a week – so Wednesday night for example, and a Saturday morning, so on Wednesday you do a track workout and on Saturday you do the distance run. Then we give you a day-by-day training guide to follow the rest of the week.

N: Does it cost anything?

A: It costs $100 to sign up to the programs and that can be for between 10 and 25 weeks, depending on what you’re training for. You raise money throughout your program for Cure Cancer Australia and you should raise between $800 and $2500 depending on your program. But the cost of it is just that – $100, which includes all your coached session throughout the weeks.

N: How does the fundraising actually work?

A: You can fundraise in any way you like, we have a fundraising page and you send out an email to friends and family. We have a fundraising booklet, we have mentors who support you through the fundraising, we have lots of helpful ideas. You only have to fundraise while on the program, so if it’s 10 weeks then you’ve only got to raise $800. It’s challenging to some people but it’s not a huge amount of money and you get lots of support from other teammates and your mentor – that’s why we’ve been able to raise so much so far.

N: Where does that money end up going?

A: It goes to Cure Cancer Australia Foundation, who fund young Australian researchers in the early stages of their career when its very difficult to get a grant. In Australia, you can’t get a grant without a track record and you can’t get a track record without a grant. It’s a chicken and an egg kind of scenario, and CCn Too filled that void.

We’ve now funded over 100 researchers and we get to meet them all, we get them onto the track to come and meet our people. So it’s really transparent where the money goes. The researchers are humbled that these people are out there, pounding the pavements and facing their fear of sharks and putting on their cleats to raise money for them, but the people that are doing the fundraising – Can-Tooers – think that the researchers are totally amazing.

Can Too runners

N: What some of the remarkable stories you’ve seen come out of the training sessions?

A: A few spring to mind for different reasons. Laurie, for example. He’s in his 50’s, when he first joined he was overweight, he couldn’t walk 400m around the track. He came along kicking and screaming because his wife was also doing the program. They’re both still doing it and it’s a family affair now. Laurie has now run 12 marathons, raised about $40000, lost about 35kilos.

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There’s also Claire, she joined because her sister-in-law was dying of cancer and she had 3 young kids and she felt totally helpless. She could run a half marathon, she didn’t need help, but the great thing is with support – even if you’re already a good runner you’re going to get fitter and faster being coached. She raised about $1500 and for her it was about turning a negative into something she could do to help.

Her sister-in-law died, but through the program she met her husband and now had a baby. So even though it was such a negative thing that brought her here, she got fitter, healthier and something really lovely came out of it.

Others have lost up to 45kgs in weight. We’ve had a lot of people who were quite overweight and had a negative self-identity, who are now able to run marathons. We’ve had babies born from people meeting at Can Too. We’re onto our fifth marriage. People have met future friends, future bridesmaids, partners.

Then there’s the people that have lost love one due to cancer or had it themselves and it’s a way of no longer feeling helpless.

If you want to take part in a Can Too program, they have sessions in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney – you can sign up here.

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT – our very own Mamamia editor, Holly Wainwright, is going to be running the Blackmores Sydney Festival Half-Marathon this weekend with Can Too. If you’d like to sponsor her and her creaky knees, please go here.

And in other sports news from the week…

– There has been some thrilling news for our women’s rugby league team, the Jillaroos. This week, it was announced that they’ve been chosen to be included in the NRL Auckland Nines tournament next year.

Exposure in this tournament will be amazing for our female footy players, who are currently world champions after smashing it at the rugby World Cup.

– Big news from Scotland – and no, it’s not about the referendum. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, commonly referred to as “the home of golf”, has finally allowed women to become members at the club.

About three-quarters of the club’s 2400 members voted, and 85% agreed that they would welcome women to join – after 260 years of only men being able to sign up to the club.

Have you seen anything in the sporting world that you’d like to talk about?