Cohen Walford, front, with brother, Reid, 14, their mum, Rachel, and sister, Eden, 12. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Cancer battler’s son ‘determined to make a difference’
An 11-year-old Kahutara School boy has single-handedly raised nearly $5000 with a bikeathon in honour of people battling cancer, like his mum. HAYLEY GASTMEIER reports.

Rachel Walford says her coffin is beautiful.

Bright and cheerfully decorated by her three children, it’s in the garage at her Featherston home, gathering dust.

The fact that she is still here enjoying life with her family is a blessing.

Rachel was given three to six months to live in 2015, when she was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer, despite having never smoked a cigarette in her life.

Now her youngest child, 11-year-old Cohen, is on a mission to raise awareness about the disease, as part of a class project on the power of individuals being undertaken by his class at Kahutara School.

In just over two weeks, Cohen has raised more than $4800 for the Wairarapa Cancer Society – nearly 10 times his original target of $500, which he achieved on the first day.

“Our inquiry was about how we are powerful as individuals and how we can make a bigger difference together.”

Cohen decided to use this as an opportunity “to help people with cancer” by holding a bikeathon at his school’s BMX track on June 20.

Off his own bat, he emailed Wairarapa schools and businesses asking for sponsorship.

Rachel laughs as she explains how his email recommended the schools hold a mufti day for the cause.

She says she was surprised by her son’s initiative to contact businesses.

“He needed a bit of guidance finding the emails because he was getting really frustrated.

“I was cooking tea and had no idea what he was doing and I came into [the lounge] and he had this bit of paper with a list of all these companies, and Mitre 10 was spelt Mighter 10, so he was struggling to find the emails, and he had been here a couple of hours doing that.”

Hadlow Preparatory School and Lakeview School had been standouts in backing Cohen’s pledge, Rachel says.

Due to her son’s efforts, Jennian Homes gave $1000 and JNL donated seven tonnes of fire wood to sell.

Cohen spent four hours collecting outside SuperValue last weekend and a couple of Facebook posts by mum had boosted the incoming donations.

The aim of the bikeathon is to see how many times participants could make it around the track.

Cohen guessed he’d be able to get around it 40 times.

“The idea is you try and keep going around without stopping, but if you’re dying of thirst, I guess you could just stop and have a drink.”

Rachel says her son really latched on to the school project, which he made personal.

“He was determined to do something to make a difference and to help people . . . he really embraced it with his heart and soul.”

Kahutara School’s Cohen Walford, 11, with his teacher Ben Milne.
PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Cohen’s teacher Ben Milne says the unit of enquiry was about giving back to the community, and Cohen was taking the challenge head-on.

Fundraising initiatives included pupils taking time out to play with the children at the neighbouring daycare, and doing something nice for the Menz Shed members, who often fixed the kid’s bikes.

Funds raised by other pupils would be split between the Cancer Society and Starship Hospital, where Kahutara School’s Eli Honeysett has spent a lot of time.

Ben says Cohen is an inspiration.

“He’s the sort of kid that every teacher wants in their class.”

Rachel is a “very proud” mum.

“I’m just in awe of him,” she says.

“I want to acknowledge everybody whose got behind Cohen, whether its $2 or $1000, whether it’s the people who can’t afford to donate who shared his [online] link instead, it’s about coming together to make a difference.”

She said her children and husband, Darren, had been through a lot since her terminal diagnosis.

Rachel is still alive due to her “lovely” oncologist who arranged compassionate access to expensive drugs not generally available in New Zealand.

While the future is uncertain, Cohen’s determination has brightened up the present for Rachel.

“This means a lot to me – all the support from his teachers, the school, the community who are getting behind him to do this – because this is something that will stay with him for life, it’s going to be something he remembers forever.

“It’s something positive to take away, and hopefully will help him through the hard times – well, that’s the way I see it.”

People can donate to Cohen’s online fundraising page: https://funrun2018.everydayhero.com/nz/cohen-w