Tears of triumph and joy were shed at the 2014 Your Champions gala awards ceremony for an inspirational woman who lost her courageous battle against cancer earlier this year.
But the legacy left behind by Rachel Venables means that others who go through the same pain and suffering that she endured will have more chance of surviving due to her extraordinary fundraising efforts.
Rachel, 43, was declared the Champion of Champions at the glittering climax to this year’s awards scheme which has been jointly run by the ScottishPower Foundation and Trinity Mirror, parent company of The Chronicle, for 27 years.
Rachel’s husband Mark and son Luke attended Friday’s ceremony at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chester to receive the award from England goalkeeping legend Peter Shilton following the screening of an emotional film that outlined the incredible efforts of a mother who raised more than £30,000 for charity while battling terminal cancer.
Rachel was diagnosed with cancer of the lungs, liver, bones and ovaries in February 2012 but vowed to fight against the illness and pledged her support to cancer charity Awyr Las/Blue Sky in a bid to help others battling the disease.
Sadly Rachel, who lived in Flint, lost her battle in April this year and, following her death, Awyr Las paid tribute to her by nominating her for the Your Champions awards.
Rachel set out on her fundraising mission in 2013 when she raised £5,000 for new equipment at the North Wales Cancer Treatment Centre in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, where she was receiving treatment.
Within the first year of Rachel’s campaign an impressive £22,857 had been raised and just days before Rachel passed away she presented another cheque for £10,000 to Awyr Las.
Close friend Kev Francis described her as a ‘shining star’ and said: “We are devastated by the loss of our beautiful friend and take great comfort from the inspirational path she set upon us to raise funds for others. Her legacy to us all is that through adversity, we conduct our lives with dignity and determination.
“We have lost our gorgeous angel, her friends mourn dearly for her, but we also celebrate a truly remarkable, selfless beauty. We shall never forget our friend Rach, we will always love her dearly and we are so very proud of her brave and determined journey through this disease.”
The film, which was presented by the master of ceremonies for the evening, radio and TV presenter Neil Newton, showed how fundraising is continuing by family and friends to support Awyr Las and Nightingale House, where Rachel also received exceptional care.
It was an emotional end to a fabulous night which featured story after story of exceptional achievement by groups and individuals, often in circumstances of great adversity, who have long been the unsung heroes and heroines of their communities.
The event began with Carl Wood, commercial director of Trinity Mirror North West/North Wales, describing it as his favourite occasion of the year.
He said: “We are very proud to be associated with supporting this fantastic community initiative which is now in its 27th year. The awards celebrate the achievements of some very special people who make great things happen and show great character and bravery.”
Neil Clitheroe, CEO, retail and generation at ScottishPower, said he had been involved with the event for the past four years and had always found it ‘humbling to hear the stories from around the region’.
He explained: “The ScottishPower Foundation is our charity arm which was set up in 2013. It is an independent charity which provides funding for good causes throughout the UK.”
Mr Clitheroe then introduced guest of honour Peter Shilton, the most capped England player of all time who has been honoured with both an OBE and MBE.
He said: “It is a great pleasure for me to come along this evening. There are people in this room I can relate to very much for the hard work and dedication they have shown.”
The sporting legend then gave a brief account of his career from his days as a schoolboy dreaming of playing for his home club of Leicester City to the notorious incident in the World Cup finals of 1986 when Argentinian striker Diego Maradona scored the ‘Hand of God’ goal against him.
Neil Newton then began reading out stories about all the winners from the Chester, Flintshire, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn and Widnes, South Cheshire, Wirral and Wrexham areas all of whom were vying for the titles of Overall Champion in the categories of Young Person, Team, Volunteer, Sporting and Person.
But the final plaudits were reserved for Rachel Venables who may not have been there in person but was in everyone’s thoughts as the 27th year of Your Champions came to a close.