Relay for Life is an annual event celebrated not just in Huntsville, AL but in cities around the world. What began as one man’s quest to make a difference has grown to the largest fundraising event for cancer in the world.
Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Tacoma, Washington, wanted to help raise funds for his local American Cancer Society. He decided he would raise money by doing something he enjoyed—running. In May 1985, Dr. Klatt circled the track at Baker Stadium for 24 hours for a total of more than 83 miles. Friends and family donated $25 to run or walk certain lengths with him and that year, he raised $27,000. Inspired by his success, Dr. Gordy worked to develop Relay for Life into a spark that lit the world on fire.
As Relay for Life evolved, the event became structured around teams. Anyone can form a team and teams can be as large as one or 100+. Teams set fundraising goals and raise funds throughout the year. Fundraising ideas range from traditional to over-the-top creative.
By 2012, Dr. Klatt was still actively involved in Relay for Life, but that year, for the first time, he participated as a cancer survivor. He had been diagnosed with stomach cancer earlier that year. He battled cancer until August 2014 when he succumb at age 71 to heart failure.
Today, Relay for Life is observed by more than 4 million people in over 20 countries. It continues as an annual overnight event that applauds survivors, recognizes caregivers and honors those who have lost the battle with cancer.
Relay is held in a variety of venues including stadiums, town squares, conference halls or other areas laps can be walked. One year, Huntsville had it under the rocket at the Space and Rocket Center! It is a festive atmosphere with music, food, laughter and tears.
Teams create team t-shirts and decorate tables and tents to surround the walking track. Survivors kick off the walk with the first Victory lap. Caregivers take a recognition lap and participants take laps in honor or memory of friends and family in the battle.
When night falls, the Luminaria Ceremony is performed. It is a beautiful and moving way to honor survivors and those who have lost the battle to cancer. Luminaria bags have the name of the honoree written on them and can be decorated to make the Luminaria unique and special or cut with stars, circles, or other shapes to enhance their glow when lit. The light inside each Luminaria represents a life, which shines with the Hope for a cancer-free world.
The American Cancer Society is committed to saving lives from cancer. 75% of their funds go to cancer research, patient support, detection and treatment, and prevention and education. And their efforts have been effective. There has been a 23% decline in cancer death rates since 1991. But they can’t do it alone. Won’t you help? Join a team today!