ST. MARYS — Relay for Life has been marching its way through local communities this summer, spreading cancer awareness and uniting survivors and fighters everywhere.
In May of 1985, a doctor named Gordon Klatt walked and jogged around a track in Tacoma, Washington for 24 hours, helping to raise money for the American Cancer Society. He raised $27,000 through pledges, assembling 19 teams the following year for the first Relay at the Stadium Bowl.
“Gordy” died of stomach cancer in 2014, but is the reason behind the idea of Relay for Life — the American Cancer Society’s billion-dollar global fundraiser that contributes to research, awareness and education, according to the ACS.
Saturday was the 25th Relay for Life fundraiser in Elk County. The event is an all-day affair, offering everything from music to food to games and walking with friends and family.
“Between 1994 –2016 Elk County’s Relay for Life has raised $1,546,857,” according to a previously published Courier Express article. Elk County also was the 18th highest fund raiser across the state in 2015.
Susan Babik, the community development manager for the Northeast region of the American Cancer Society, said 14 teams participated in the 2018 Elk County RFL, raising more than $75,000 to support saving lives from cancer.
They welcomed more than 45 cancer survivors and caregivers who walked the survivor lap, celebrating the lives of survivors or honoring loved ones who lost theirs.
Relay for Life of Central Clearfield County, which was held June 2, raised more than $85,000, bringing 150 cancer survivors into attendance.
Babik said that because of awareness and fundraising events like RFL, along with treatments and education, cancer incidence (the number of new cases) have been reduced in the past decade. Around 50 percent of all cancers are preventable.
“We need to increase awareness of the relay itself, and how people can become involved, because everybody’s been touched by cancer,” Babik said. “Relay gives people the opportunity to make a difference.”
In 2018 in the United States, the ACS estimates there will be 4,750 new cases of cancer, and 1,670 deaths.
The luminary ceremony — an impactful and important part of RFL — honored the lives of survivors and those who have died of cancer, using a bag personalized with a message or name that is illuminated when it gets dark. These bright lights of hope can be seen lining the track as participants continue their walk at night.
Relay for Life events are such a success because of the communtiy support they receive from local volunteers and sponsors, Babik said.
“I’d like to thank Relay for Life of Central Elk County’s dedicated leadership volunteers who work through the year to make this event a success, and the community and businesses that supported their efforts,” she said. “(And) teams work tirelessly to raise the needed funds to support this lifesaving research.”
45 cancer survivors also attended a luncheon provided by Penn Highlands Elk on the day of the event, Babik said. The Central Clearfield County survivor luncheon, cooked by The Dutch Pantry, welcomed 175 people this year.
They are already looking forward to the 2019 kick off, which will be in October, Babik said. The object each year is not only to honor survivors and fighters, but to gain more momentum and set goals for the next event.
“We hope to grow our number of teams and participants, so we can continue the movement in Elk County to make a difference in the lives of people touched by this terrible disease.”
Relay for Life of DuBois will be held Saturday, July 21 at the DuBois City Park from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.