In the mid-1980s, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma colorectal surgeon, wanted to enhance the income of his local American Cancer Society office. He decided to personally raise money for the fight by doing something he enjoyed—running marathons.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, as the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer.
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.
What is Relay For Life Today?
The American Cancer Society Relay For Life is a life-changing event that gives everyone in communities across the globe a chance to celebrate the lives of people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and fight back against the disease. At Relay, teams of people camp out at a local high school, park, or fairground and take turns walking or running around a track or path. Each team is asked to have a representative on the track at all times during the event. Because cancer never sleeps, Relays are overnight events up to 24 hours in length.
What Happens at Relay For Life Events?
Although every Relay For Life is different, there are certain traditions at all Relays, no matter where they are held. These traditions help participants celebrate, remember, and fight back.
Celebrate – The Survivors Lap
Relay starts with a Survivors Lap – a inspirational time when survivors are invited to circle the track together and help everyone celebrate the victories we’ve achieved over cancer. The Survivors Lap is an emotional example of how Relay participants are ensuring that more lives are saved each year – like those of each individual on the track. 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. At Relay, people understand the frustrations and joys of being a caregiver, since the effects of cancer reach far beyond just the person diagnosed.
Remember – The 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. As people take time to remember, those who have walked alongside others battling cancer can grieve and find healing. This is a time that truly highlights the importance of defeating this disease.
Fight Back – The 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.
Celebrate, remember, and fight back are themes that link all Relays events together, but you can learn more about national event standards and recommendations and more about how to structure your Relay’s planning committee using a suggested three-tier approach by connecting to the documents below.
Philosophy – Why We Relay
The American Cancer Society Relay For Life represents the hope that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, that those who face cancer will be supported, and that one day cancer will be eliminated.
Relay For Life is more than just a fundraiser. It’s a life-changing experience. At Relay, every person in the community has a chance to celebrate, remember, and fight back. And every person who participates joins others around the globe as part of this worldwide movement to end cancer.
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. You can thank all the people who have done so much to support you through your personal cancer experience. And you can gather together with friends, family, and colleagues to laugh, cry, and create lasting memories.
No matter why you take part in Relay, however, one thing is clear: with every step you take, you are helping the American Cancer Society 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.
A Presence in Communities
Relay For Life is conducted not simply to raise funds, but to involve new communities, give the Society a local presence, and provide communities the opportunity to own the mission. Because Relay provides grassroots access to the population, it is a critical means of achieving the Society’s 2015 goals.
A Celebration of Cancer Survivorship
Relay is a moving celebration of cancer survivorship. The event begins with a Survivors Lap in which cancer survivors take a victory lap around the track. A candlelight ceremony is held later in the evening to honor cancer survivors and remember those who we’ve lost to this disease.
A Community Event
Relay For Life is a community event. Event sites should be selected based on how communities identify themselves. A town or small city may see itself as one community. Larger cities are usually made up of several different communities and neighborhoods. If people identify themselves as being part of a given community, the community qualifies as a Relay site. For example, Relays are even happening on college and corporate campuses, on military bases, and in cyberspace.
A Community-Owned / Volunteer-Driven Activity
As a community event, Relay fulfills a need for belonging that we all have. It also creates a sense of community by bringing people together in a moving and fun atmosphere, with sufficient time for cultivating relationships. The event is volunteer-driven, with Society staff coaching the volunteers. There is a true partnership between volunteers and staff.
A Means of Unifying Communities
Cancer is indiscriminate and knows no boundaries. As voluntary organizations in the United States must serve an increasingly diverse population and customer base, the way in which the American Cancer Society does business will need to shift. Our ability to communicate appropriately and utilize partners in our efforts will facilitate our growth in reaching diverse communities and ultimately in reaching the 2015 goals of the Society. Inclusion is imperative.
Relay Around the Globe
The American Cancer Society Relay For Life is an international movement to end cancer. Since 1996, the Society has partnered with multiple cancer organizations in countries outside the United States to license and support Relay For Life programs. Through Relay, these organizations bring together passionate volunteers, promote their mission-based activities, and mobilize community members to take action in the fight against cancer. Relay has proven especially important to countries at the beginning stages of educating both the public and health care communities about this deadly and often preventable disease.
International Relay For Life events are now held in communities spanning 18 countries outside of the United States.