What began some 30 years ago in Tacoma, Washington with one man hoping to make a difference has become an international phenomenon, raising nearly $5 billion to benefit the American Cancer Society.
Relay For Life, the signature fundraising event for the ACS, now numbers about 5,000 Relays annually in 20 countries.
Dr. Gordy Klatt is known as the founder of Relay. He spent a 24-hour period walking and running on a track at the University of Puget Sound in Washington in May of 1985 in what was called ‘The City of Destiny Classic’ and he obtained pledges for his time on the track. It was all part of his effort to help the American Cancer Society continue its battle against a disease that touches one in three people in their lifetimes. Dr. Klatt raised $27,000 in 1985 and the next year, he was joined by more than 300 other participants that made up 19 teams and raised $33,000.
Throughout the 209, Relay For Life helps raise money for cancer research, patient services and education. Teams raise money prior to their individual events and the ‘day of’ Relay also includes booths with a variety of food, merchandise, games, opportunity drawings and more, with all proceeds benefiting the ACS.
The focus is firmly on survivors at Relay For Life, as they are the honored guests and lead the way around the track for the initial lap after opening ceremonies. Caregivers are also saluted and teams can range from high school groups to churches, business teams to families. For that 24-hour period, whether it’s during an early April rain or under a scorching late June Central Valley sun, the teams come together with a vision and a purpose. At least one member from each team must be on the track at all times during Relay … and the all day, all night event is designed to drive home the fact that cancer doesn’t sleep.
In some communities, the event has now been shortened to a 12- or 16-hour period, though many have opted to retain the full 24-hour Relay event.
Relay For Life Community Manager Vickie Cordoza, who is based at the Modesto office, has worked for the American Cancer Society for almost five years. This year, she will work with five events, assisting the committees that plan Relays for their communities and then attending the events to offer support and expertise.
She will work with Oakdale, Riverbank, Tuolumne County, Manteca and Escalon for the 2015 relay season.
“Our (ACS) services, our research, what we have done over the last 100 years, that’s a given,” she said of Relay helping support the work the American Cancer Society started in 1913.
But Relay also offers more than that and is a very unifying experience, she said.
“It gives us a place to honor our survivors, it gives us an opportunity to mourn the people that we have lost,” Cordoza explained. “That whole 24 hours, we celebrate and remember and fight back, Relay gives everyone the opportunity to do that.”
She said taking up the fight against cancer brings the community together, people from all walks of life with one common goal – beating cancer.
Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back – these are the touchstones of Relay For Life. Relays ‘celebrate’ those birthdays cancer survivors are still having due to advances in treatment and early detection; they offer a time to ‘remember’ those loved ones and friends lost; and relayers have an opportunity to ‘fight back’ against the disease in a very concrete way.
And while the goal of Relay For Life is to raise money to fight against a dreaded disease, the event itself is full of music, fun, laughter, and camaraderie. Communities come together in the festival-style atmosphere for a day and a night, supporting each other along the way.
It’s also a safe place to shed some tears, remembering those who lost their battle. Luminaria bags light the track throughout the night, the decorated bags including names of both survivors and those lost to the disease.
Though each Relay has its own special features, all include some standard happenings, including the opening ceremony, a time to honor sponsors, luminaria, ‘fight back’ activities designed to increase awareness of the disease, and the closing ceremony where teams learn how much money their event raised and team and individual fundraising honors are presented.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Relay For Life and it will be first relay season since the passing of its founder. Dr. Klatt died in August of 2014 of heart failure. He had also battled stomach cancer.
The work Dr. Klatt began three decades ago through Relay continues, said David Stempel, a senior consultant and media specialist at the ACS corporate office in Oakland.
“We need your help to finish the fight,” Stempel said. “Because when we walk and fundraise together, we’re bigger than cancer.”
Livingston, Livingston High SchoolApril 18
Hilmar, Hilmar High School
Waterford, Waterford High School
Modesto High Schools, Modesto HighApril 25-26
Ceres, Ceres High School
CSU Stanislaus, Stan State campus, Turlock
Merced, Merced College
Oakdale, Oakdale High School
Hughson, Hughson High SchoolMay 2-3
Patterson, Patterson High School
Riverbank, Riverbank High School
Tuolumne County, Sonora Elementary School
Manteca, East Union High SchoolMay 16-17
Modesto, Johansen High School
Turlock, Pitman High School
Los Banos, Pacheco High School
Mariposa, Mariposa Fairgrounds
Ripon, Ripon High SchoolJune 27-28
Escalon, Escalon High SchoolSept. 12
Atwater, Shaffer Elementary School