In an attempt to get more people interested in the event, Gillette started a new event with his own Bergen Beach Relay for Life team. He called it “Fight Back with Fitness,” and it consisted of a day of zumba and fitness-related activities, with the premise that a healthy lifestyle can help prevent cancer.
He has run the event annually since then, and in its third year the event has grown substantially.
This year, Gillette and his team hosted the event on January 11, but expanded it to a Brooklyn-wide event. Relay for Life teams from Bay Ridge and Williamsburg traveled down to Bergen Beach for an afternoon of zumba and fundraising.
Not only did Gillette’s Brooklyn event expand, but two satellite events happened at the same time. Rockaway hosted its own “Fight Back with Fitness” event, as did a relay team in Pennsylvania.
“It was awesome, all of these different Relays participating at the same time in a Fight Back with Fitness Day,” Gillette said.
He does not believe that the expansion will stop there, either.
“I think this is really going to take off, I really do,” he said.
This year, Gillette’s team hosted a kids’ session, which he said was “too cute and really a lot of fun,” before their two-and-a-half hour main event zumba session.
The room, he said, was “packed in from the front of the stage to the back, and they didn’t stop.”
In all, Gillette guessed that 40 kids came for the early session and over 200 adults. He said he believed Rockaway had another 50 people and the Pennsylvania event had another 100 participants.
Each location raised money for the American Cancer Society, with the Brooklyn event bringing in around $4,000, Pennsylvania raising about $1,000, and Rockaway adding another $500.
Gillette said he believes some of the success comes from the message of the event.
“We do this agenda of cancer awareness through prevention and a healthy lifestyle,” he explained. “We go for the positive message in it.”
He said that this year, two women who have attended the event in the past both could not participate in zumba because they each had to go in for breast cancer surgery in December.
But both showed up to the event anyway, cheering on the dancers and helping out with the event logistics.
“That says it all,” Gillette said. “It makes me feel good about the type of effect that we have. These are the people that we do this for.”