Since 1990, local residents have been gathering at the East Valley High School track to support a celebration of hope.
The site is one of over 5,000 in the U.S. to host a Relay for Life – a unique fundraising event sponsored by the American Cancer Society that now includes nearly four million participants nationwide. Last month at EVHS, 29 teams took part in the relay, generating over $46,000 for the cause.
While the funds will be helpful in the ongoing effort to find a cure for the disease, those who turned out for the occasion on June 18-19 should be recognized for far more than a financial pledge.
“You find out that this is about people standing together, remembering and fighting back,” said Heidi Ovnicek, a volunteer who oversees team development and has attended the last 10 East Valley events with her family.
“This is really a unifying event for the community.”
Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma-based cancer surgeon understood the value of civic collaboration when he launched the very first 24-hour relay in May of 1985. A marathon runner, Klatt proposed the idea to personally raise money for the local chapter of ACS by circling the track at Baker Stadium on the campus of the University of Puget Sound. Klatt covered over 83 miles as part of the inaugural event, raising $27,000. Over 300 of Klatt’s family, friends and patients were there to cheer him on.
The following year, 19 teams were formed to participate in the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer. Thanks in part to an ad-hoc organizing committee, the festivities drew more attention and generated over $33,000.
Now held in 22 countries throughout the world, Relay for Life has raised an estimated $3 billion in the fight against cancer since Klatt’s first jaunt 26 years ago.
The East Valley rendition includes 10 different committees staffed by over 30 volunteers. Ovnicek said it continues to be the simple things – like a thank-you letter received from a team after this year’s relay – that make the time and effort worthwhile.
“They just described their gratitude and said how the event helps them remember, celebrate and have fun,” she said.
Ovnicek will be back next June along with hundreds of others who have grown to appreciate the value of forging ahead, finding strength and working toward a cure.
“The element of hope is the main reason I stay involved,” Ovnicek said. “If I can make a difference for one person, it will be worthwhile.”