Mark Wurst's dad was his inspiration.
Dad was a magician, entertaining young and old with his tricks, like his version of the cups and balls routine, making items appear and disappear. At age five, Mark eagerly began to learn how to perform those same tricks, getting lessons from dad.
Howard was the original magician in the Wurst family. Handing down the secrets of magic to his son, Howard saw Mark go on to perform as a magician beginning in 1983.
Mark now performs around 300 shows a year. The shows are birthday parties, retirements, festivals and more. But many of the events relate to his volunteerism with American Cancer Society, as Mark is one of the lead organizers of a Relay for Life team, Magic Fights Cancer.
Mark's father died in 1992 of cancer after a two year fight. Mark remembers how as a 19 and 20 year old, his family reached out to the American Cancer Society, using their support network, and he said it made a big difference.
"They provided us with large amounts of very expensive medical supplies delivered to our house all free of charge. And there was always someone there to talk to on those days when the stress levels just got too high to hold it inside," Mark said. "I always wanted to find a way to help out and give something back, perhaps make life a little easier for another family suffering and grieving, but I just didn't know how to get involved."
In 2008, Mark got a call from the American Cancer Society asking if he'd like to volunteer, and he promptly said yes.
"I Relay because I lost my dad," Mark said. "It makes me very proud that I can use my talents, my gift of magic that my father passed on to me, to help the American Cancer Society succeed in their mission to create a world with less cancer and more birthdays."
The two-day Relay for Life this Saturday at Toms River High School South will bring together hundreds of local families touched by cancer, as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
The event's luminaria ceremony is one of the more poignant moments in the two-day event. Candles are light around the track, each one dedicated to a particular individual.
The Relay for Life is also a celebration of life and aims to educate about early detection and other prevention.
In addition the community event features a variety of entertainment, food and other activities. The Relay for Life kicks off at noon Saturday, June 2 at Toms River High School South.
The Toms River Relay For Life has 270 participants signed up on 45 teams and have raised more than $40,000 for the American Cancer Society. "We are looking to double that dollar amount," Wurst said, adding that donations come in through August. Wurst maintains a website, www.MagicFightsCancer.com, to spread the word and to also collect donations.
In addition to participating in the walk and other events, the Magic Fights Cancer relay team has a booth where magicians will be performing throughout the two days. A nearby display shows magicians such as Howard Wurst who died of cancer, dedicated to their lives and honoring their contributions to magic.
"When I originally started www.MagicFightsCancer.com, I wanted it to be a place that could celebrate and remember the careers of many great magicians who were taken too soon by cancer," Mark said. "Well, the Relay For Life motto is Celebrate, Remember & Fight Back. So getting involved for me was a perfect fit. Adding the Fight Back and raising money for local families & research is something that my family and I are very passionate about."
For more information on this weekend's Relay for Life, visit the event website here.