The American Cancer Society (ACS) Relay for Life, which was started in 1985 as a fundraising drive for cancer research, has to date raised nearly $5 billion in its 30 years of existence. It is the world’s largest nonprofit fundraising event.
A man from Tacoma, Washington, Dr. Gordon Klatt, decided to personally raise money for his local ACS office in 1985, and he decided to do it by running a marathon. Klatt ran for 24 hours and covered 83 miles around the track at the University of Puget Sound’s stadium. He raised $27,000 to fight cancer. The next year, 19 teams took part in the first organized team relay event, then called the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer. They raised $33,000, and since then the relay has continued.
Thirty years down the line, the Relay for Life, at its core, remains in the original form as an overnight relay where teams walk or run around their local tracks for 24 hours, and each team is asked to have at least one participant on the track at all times. There have been some changes, as each event has added something new. New traditions have been instituted and have now become a part of most relays.
The Survivors Lap is one such tradition. It is a lap around the track for the survivors of cancer and a way of celebrating. Nearly 14.5 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive as of Jan. 1, 2014. These figures account for only the 10 most prevalent cancer sites. Another event, the Luminaria Ceremony, is in remembrance of those who have lost their lives to cancer and participants commit to fight against cancer in the Fight Back Ceremony.
The event is so popular that it even takes place online in 3-D virtual worlds. Second Life, a popular online virtual world, has raised more than $2 million since 2005. Characters build campsites and walk around a track for 24 hours, much like the real event. InWorldz, another virtual world, will host their fourth relay event this year. The real-life Relay for Life season usually kicks off in mid-April, when spring arrives all across the country, and this year is made all the more special because of the 30th anniversary. News has already started pouring in from Georgia, Florida, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, California and Wisconsin of races taking place. While communities do participate, many colleges organize a few events around the year.
The Southern Methodist University’s Relay for Life event in Dallas, Texas, has already raised the bar for donations, as they raised $176,400 last week. Their ACS collegiate chapter raised $45,534 themselves – the highest amount raised by a college chapter in the country.
James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, reported total collections of $200,804 by the end of this year’s Relay for Life. Acapella group Note-oriety performed while participants walked or ran for their family members and loved ones who had been affected by cancer.
The efforts of Cassandra McCann, a 2011 Clark University alum, was recognized by ACS, who created a special plaque for her. McCann was one of the students who brought the Relay for Life to the Worcester, Massachusetts, university in 2009. She lost her battle against gastrointestinal cancer, but the relay committee members used the hashtag #ClarkiesForCassandra to remember and honor her. The Clarkies Against Cancer raised $16,000 during the annual event.
State University of New York’s Fredonia, New York, campus raised $32,700 for the cause. Thirty-three teams registered for this year’s Disney-themed race, which was being held for the ninth time. Activities included a Disney Sing It! and Finding Nemo and Friends. A special appearance was also made by Frozen characters Ana, Elsa and Olaf.
Spring showers did not hinder the event at all in South Carolina and Florida. University of South Carolina’s thirteenth annual relay was held after morning showers left the field muddy in the Columbia, South Carolina, campus. This did not dampen the spirit of the participants, who raised $164,136. Nearly 500 participants in 44 teams came together and raised over $70,000 in Greater Escambia, Florida, too. The organizers had to switch locations to an indoor track because of the rain, but people’s enthusiasm was at an all-time high as they came together for the event.
The Relay for Life is going strong, even in its 30th year, as people come together to bond and to seek solace from the story of other survivors. James Madison University student Heidi Jenkins agrees with the sentiment. “It’s a great opportunity for people who haven’t really necessarily accepted what’s happened to their loved ones or themselves,” Jenkins told The Breeze.
By Anugya Chitransh
Photos by Gerry Dincher – Flickr License (1)
Wildstar Beaumont – Flickr License (2)
George – Flickr License (3)