The man who started it all
11:08 am July 9th, 2014
Gordy Klatt (middle, in dark jacket) waves from a group of Relay for Life supporters who followed his lead. Klatt, who is credited with founding the annual, national fund-raiser for American Cancer Society, will be a featured speaker at Eatonville’s Relay for Life this weekend. (Courtesy photo)
By Pat Jenkins
If the walkers in this weekend’s Relay for Life in Eatonville need any additional inspiration, they can turn to the man who essentially set them in motion nearly 30 years ago.
In May 1985, Dr. Gordy Klatt spent 24 hours circling the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound. After going round and round for 83 miles, he’d raised $27,000 in donations to give to the American Cancer Society to fight cancer.
From that experience, Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Tacoma, developed the idea for Relay for Life. A year later, 340 people joined the first of the overnight events in which teams of participants walk or jog laps on a running track in exchange for pledges for the Cancer Society. Since then, Relay for Life has grown over the years into a worldwide event, raising nearly $5 billion for the treatment, research and prevention of cancer.
This Saturday, Klatt will be a featured speaker as the local Relay for Life teams gather for the 12 noon start of their two-day event at Eatonville High School that will stretch into Sunday. Organizers invited him and were excited when he accepted.
“We really want people to know he’s coming,” said Karen Woodcock, one of the organizers.
Klatt himself has battled the disease that has spurred Relay for Life events for the better part of three decades. In 2012, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and underwent chemotherapy.
“Throughout the years,” he said, “I have spoken and written about how cancer can personally affect everyone. It affects the rich, the poor, and all nationalities and cultures around the world.”
Klatt’s personal quest to help put money behind anti-cancer efforts was the genesis for more than 5,000 Relay for Life events that are staged annually across the United States. The fund-raising extends internationally, as the American Cancer Society licenses 20 non-governmental cancer organizations in other countries to hold events in the crusade to give hope to cancer patients.
In Eatonville, the cumulative fund-raising is approaching the $1 million mark. Heading into its 2013 edition, Relay for Life had amassed about $617,000 in donations over the years, and another $41,000-plus was generated last year.
As of early last week, the running tally for this year’s event was 26 teams and a combined 153 participants who’d raised $23,757.
Some of the leading teams in donations were Team Flamingo Red Hatters at $4,360, Jewels of MBS at $3,239, and Team Arrow at $2,575, Top individual fund-raisers included Christine Blackett ($1,712), Carole Dean ($1,500) and Mary Schactler ($1,270).
Local organizers describe Relay for Life as an opportunity to unite as a community and honor cancer survivors, increase awareness of cancer and its prevention and treatment, and raise money for the American Cancer Society’s fight against the disease.
Members of each team will take turns walking around the track day and night. When they aren’t walking or resting, the participants will enjoy food, games and activities in the family-friendly surroundings.
The proceedings will include ceremonies honoring cancer survivors and remembering those who lost their battles with the disease.