RFL of IW :: What is Relay For Life

History of Relay

Dr. Gordy Klatt

One person can make a difference. Nowhere is that more evident than with the story of the American Cancer Society Relay For Life, which began in Tacoma, Washington. In the mid-1980s, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma colorectal surgeon, wanted to enhance the income of his local American Cancer Society office and to show support for all of his patients who had battled cancer. He decided to personally raise money for the fight by doing something he enjoyed - running marathons.

In May 1985, Dr. Klatt spent a grueling 24 hours circling the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma for more than 83 miles. Throughout the night, friends paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him. He raised $27,000 to fight cancer. That first year, nearly 300 of Dr. Klatt's friends, family, and patients watched as he ran and walked the course.

While he circled the track those 24 hours, he thought about how others could take part. He envisioned a 24-hour team relay event that could raise more money to fight cancer. Months later he pulled together a small committee to plan the first team relay event known as the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer.

In 1986, 19 teams took part in the first team relay event on the track at the colorful, historical Stadium Bowl and raised $33,000. An indescribable spirit prevailed at the track and in the tents that dotted the infield.

The vision turned into Relay For Life with over 5,200 events in the United States and has raised more than $5 billion to save lives. In addition, the American Cancer Society licenses twenty three non-governmental cancer organizations in other countries and two virtual worlds to hold Relay For Life events to battle cancer across the globe.

Since 1986, Relay For Life has provided inspiration and hope for millions of cancer survivors and caregivers

Gordon "Gordy" Klatt, M.D., founder of the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life event passed away August 3, 2014, at the age of 71 from heart failure after battling stomach cancer.

What Happens at a Relay Event

There are many moments that create the Relay experience. Specific details vary by event. But the key moments that all events share in common are listed below:

Survivors Lap

Relay starts with a Survivors Lap - an inspirational time when survivors are invited to circle the track together and help everyone celebrate the victories we've achieved over cancer. We also recognize and celebrate caregivers at Relay For Life. These individuals give their time, love, and support to friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers who face cancer.

Luminaria Ceremony

After dark, we honor people who have been touched by cancer and remember loved ones lost to the disease during the Luminaria Ceremony. Candles are lit inside bags filled with sand, each one bearing the name of a person touched by cancer, and participants often walk a lap in silence.

Fight Back Ceremony

Last, there is a Fight Back Ceremony, where we make a personal commitment to save lives by taking up the fight against cancer. That personal commitment may be to do something as simple as getting a screening test, quitting smoking, or talking to elected officials about cancer. By taking action, people are personally taking steps to save lives and fight back against a disease that takes too much.

Why We Fundraise

Everyone's reason to Relay is as unique as their own personal story. At Relay, you can find healing, comfort, and support from others who have faced cancer or who have lost a loved one to the disease. You have a chance to meet people in the community who are equally as passionate about finding an end to cancer in our lifetime.

No matter why you take part in Relay, however, one thing is clear: with every step you take, you are helping save lives. With your help, we aren't just fighting one type of cancer - we're fighting for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. Each person who shares the Relay experience can take pride in knowing that they are working to create a world where this disease will no longer threaten the lives of our loved ones or claim another year of anyone's life.