Relay for Life to have 20th Relay

Twenty years ago, a group of individuals came together to form the first Relay for Life planning committee. The first Relay for Life was held in May 1996 in downtown Monticello.

According to archives, the first Relay event was held from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. During the event, team members took turns walking throughout the night as the teams camped downtown for the event.

Relay for Life is a community based fundraising effort for the American Cancer Society. According to the ACS website, Relay for Life began in Tacoma, Wash. as the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer.

According to the websitte, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Tacoma, 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.

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.

A decade later,  Relay for Life had made its way to Drew County. According to a photo found in the Advance Monticellonian archives, the original Relay for Life Committee – known then as the Drew County Chapter of the American Cancer Society – were Paul Smith, Peggy Echols, Jean Mettetal, Gena Davis, Sissy McRae, Beth Calhoun, Steve Savage, Laura Lee Dearman, Bonnie Jordan, Norma Eubank, Ira Watkins, Martha Sue McClain and Sherre Scogin.

This year’s Relay, which is scheduled for April 23 in McCloy Park, will be paying tribute to those who began the event in Drew County 20 years ago.

“We want to honor those who started this event,” Sandra Norris, Drew County Relay for Life chairperson, said. “We want them to attend Relay so that they can be honored for their efforts in the fight against cancer.”

Norris said the Relay Committee want anyone who has ever served on the Relay Committee in Drew County to contact her so that they can be recognized at this year’s Relay. Norris can be reached at 870-723-2920.

While Relay has evolved over the last two decades, the purpose remains the same – celebrate the survivors, remember those lost, and fight back against cancer by raising money for cancer research and other programs offered by the American Cancer Society.

The biggest change Relay has seen is the length.

When it first began, Relay was 24 hour event because “cancer never sleeps.” The event was shorted to 12 hours but began at dusk and ended at dawn.

According to the ACS website, the dusk symbolizes the patient’s diagnosis. The overnight walk symbolizes their walk through the darkness of cancer treatment. The dawn symbolizes the patient’s cure or survival.

Norris said the Drew County Relay began at 10 a.m. and lasted until 10 p.m. with the glow run. This year’s Relay will begin at noon and will wrap up at 10 p.m.

“People wouldn’t stay over night anymore,” Norris said. “It got to where it was just the Relay committee after 10 p.m. so we decided to make some changes.”

Norris said last year’s Relay turned out well with all the changes, and they decided to start a little later because they want to have survivor lap to kick off the event.

“We decided to start at noon to give our survivors a little more time to get there,” she said.

Norris said this year will celebrate the last 20 years of Relays in Drew County. She said it’s not too late to have a team. Anyone wishing to have a team in this year’s Relay should contact Bonnie Hicks at 870-723-2269.

Norris said the luminary ceremony, where a luminary is lit in honor of cancer survivors or in memory of someone who lost their battle with the disease. Luminaries are $5 each, and can be purchased by contacting Cristal Langley at 870-723-4241. Luminaries may also be purchased the day of Relay.

The Advance-Monticellonian

Mailing Address:
PO Box 486
Monticello, AR 71657

Street Address:
314 Main Street
Monticello, AR 71655

Phone: 870-367-5325
Fax: 870-367-6612

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