Monday, March 30, 2009

Rotary Club

Recently I was asked to give a speech at the local Rotary Club about Relay For Life. This was the text that I prepared.

I have been asked to tell you a bit about Relay For Life. Relay For life is about people making a difference. Here is a story that shows how one person can make a difference.

The idea that became Relay For Life, began in Tacoma, Washington. In the mid-1980s, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma 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. He ran for more than 83 miles. That first year, nearly 300 of Dr. Klatt's friends, family, and patients watched as he ran and walked the course. Throughout the night, friends donated $25 to run or walk with Dr. Klatt for 30 minutes. His efforts raised $27,000 to fight cancer.

While circling the track those 24 hours, Dr. Klatt thought about how others could take part in his mission to fight cancer. He envisioned a 24-hour team relay event that could raise more money to fight cancer. Over the next few months, 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 what was the first team relay event, and raised $33,000. An indescribable spirit prevailed at the track and in the tents that dotted the infield. What started as one man's dream is now an event taking place in over five thousand communities across America as well as in many other countries.

So what exactly is Relay For Life? It is much more than a walk around a track, Relay is a time to celebrate those who have battled cancer, remember those lost and get inspired to fight back. Those who have shared the same experience find common ground, hope and healing at Relay.

Union Bank Purple Onions

If you have been into local banks, the hospital, and many other places around town you know that fund raising is what Relay for Life is about. It is true that Relay For Life is the main form of fundraising for the American Cancer Society. Every dollar raised makes a difference to people in our community whose lives are touched by cancer. The Society has contributed to almost every major discovery in cancer research. Millions of lives have been saved as a result, including people you may know. For those people and countless others, the research the Society has funded is resulting in better ways to prevent, detect, and treat cancer.

One of the first things that people ask, and rightly so, is how is the money raised by Relay used. One of the uses is for Cancer research, but as important as that is it is sometimes hard for people to really grasp that idea. There are many services that the American Cancer Society provides to people right here in Polk County. When cancer affects you or someone you love, the American Cancer Society can lessen your fears and provide inspiration through their many programs and services - all free of charge and made possible through Relay For Life donations. Your donations give those touched by cancer answers to their questions and offer places to turn for help in their community through the Society's Web site, or their 24-hour toll-free number, 1-800-ACS-2345.

Tuesday evening my wife and I spoke at the Cancer Support Group that meets at RMCC. We learned of very positive experiences people had calling the toll free number.

To give you a bit of an idea of what the money is used for, here are the largest categories. Patient Support 20%; Prevention 20%; Detection and Treatment 16%; Research 14%.

But Relay For Life has another side besides fund raising. Relay brings people together and empowers them. We have a slogan. Celebrate - Remember - Fight Back.

A cancer survivor's recovery involves much more than medical treatments - it takes hope to heal. By participating in the Relay For Life, those touched by cancer can feel empowered to fight back against this disease.

To give you an idea of how Relay helps empower those touched by cancer, let me tell you my wife's story. Her mother died of cancer when Gina was just 21 years old. Her father had colon cancer, and all three of her sisters have had breast cancer. She is the only person in her immediate family that is cancer free.


Several years ago, Gina's sister Roberta got involved with Relay For Life in Enumclaw, Washington. For a number of years, Gina would travel to Enumclaw to be a part of Relay For Life there. Two years ago, she learned that Polk County was going to have a Relay. She got involved in the 2007 Relay, and has been involved ever since. Relay helps her to celebrate her family that are cancer survivors, it gives her a positive way to remember her parents, and it gives her a way to fight back. Because she is such a fighter, she is passionate about Relay For Life. She is Fighting Back.

What is happening right here in Polk County this year? 28 teams are busy raising funds and cancer awareness. These are teams that represent businesses, churches, families, schools, professional organizations, clubs, and community organizations. 350 participants have signed up on our local Relay For Life website. Over 17,000 dollars have been raised. Last year local Relay For Life team members raised over $60,000.00. This year our goal is $64,000.00. Right now these teams are fundraising, but the big event is April 17th and 18th at Janssen Park.

Survivors Lap

What is going to happen that night? The teams will set up at the park with fundraisng ideas. There will be plenty of food, and lots of other fun activities. The entire community is invited to come to the park and help celebrate. The evening kicks off with the Survivor Lap. Relay is a big celebration to celebrate our cancer survivors. Over 100 have signed up with us to walk in that opening Survivor lap. We also honor Caregivers. To be the physical and emotional support for a cancer patient is a tough but very important job, and we honor those individuals. After these special laps around the park, the teams start walking with the goal of keeping at least one person from each team on the track at all times. Relay starts at 6:00 P.M. and continues until Saturday morning with the closing ceremonies starting at 10:00 A.M. We go through the night because cancer never sleeps. All evening there are lots of activities. There will be live music with a great program being put together by Richie Owens.

Highlighting the evening is a luminaria Ceremony of Hope held after dark to honor cancer survivors and to remember loved ones lost to cancer. The luminaria candles line the track and are left burning throughout the night. If you were at last years relay you know what an awesome sight that was. After the quiet reflective time of the luminaria ceremony, the celebration resumes with karaoke and other fun activities lasting all through the night.


At the closing ceremonies there will be drawings for the many items that are being given as prizes by the various teams.

We hope to have lots of people from the community join in the celebration that is Relay For Life.


  1. Thank you, Richie, for writing this superb post! Hopefully, more will get involved in Relay as a result of your wonderful and inspiring words! ~Janine

  2. This is such a worthwhile event. Here, we have Race for Life which is the same event. My sister is doing a run/walk in the South of England.

    CJ xx

  3. That was a great post and I learnt so much. Its inspiring that people care so much about each other and help those who need it the most. Community is very important and Relay clearly is a great contribution to society. BRAVO to you!!

  4. I am going to send a donation this year because I have met you and you have touched my life. I love your story!