Cancer patient Janis Barrett yesterday sounded the hooter for 3,000 women to take part in the Race for Life.
The 44-year-old, of Birtley, was chosen to get the Gateshead leg of the Cancer Research UK event under way after vowing to compete in the event despite treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for breast and bone cancer.
Mrs Barrett, who works at filter company Dominic Hunter in Birtley, was supported by fellow workers Hazel Robertson, Michelle Dunn and Marilyn Johnson, who were all running in honour of loved ones affected by the disease.
The foursome had united to raise hundreds of pounds in sponsorship for the annual 5km, women-only race around Saltwell Park.
Following on from a successful event in Sunderland's Herrington Park, the event will now move on to Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Durham and Newcastle over the coming weeks. It is the eighth year the event has taken place at the park and participants last year raised £191,000.
This year organisers are hoping to top that by collecting £223,000 to support Cancer Research UK's work in the treatment, cure and prevention of the disease.
Janis said: "I'm very proud to have been asked to start. I was put forward by my friend Hazel. It's the first time I've run, but it's just fantastic."
Friend Marilyn, who was running in memory of father Eddie and brother Edward, who died of the disease when he was just 34, added: "It's so important to run in memory of those people who we've lost or those who have been affected and you feel you are doing something to help other people."
Yesterday's event was won by 11-year-old Sophie Forster, who came through the finishing line first for the third year on the trot. The pupil at Ouston Junior School near Chester-le-Street, left mother Bev - a breast cancer survivor - and 14-year-old sister Abi far behind to race home in 21 minutes.
The youngster, who trains at Birtley Athletics Club, was cheered home by father Tony, who said: "We are very proud of her. She's a real star and is aiming to be the next Paula Radcliffe."
Race for Life organiser Holly Scholes, whose mother Barbara is a cancer survivor after being diagnosed in 1990, said: "The atmosphere at Race for Life is very emotional. Many of the women who take part are cancer survivors or have family or friends who have been touched by the disease."
There are still places left for Race for Life at South Park in Darlington on June 10. To get involved visit www. raceforlife.org