Relay for Life begins today: Annual event raises funds for the American Cancer Society

Posted: Friday, May 29, 2009

Whether it is to honor someone fighting the disease, remember someone who has succumbed to it, or just to raise money for the fight against cancer, this weekend's Relay For Life is how many choose to support the American Cancer Society.

"This is our 11th year locally," said Penny Furnish, cochair of the central peninsula event, which begins today at Skyview High School.

The inception of the event is proof one person can make a difference, she said. In the mid-1980s, Gordy Klatt, a Washington colorectal surgeon, wanted to enhance the income of his local American Cancer Society office and show support for all of his patients who had battled cancer.

He spent a grueling 24 hours circling a track at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., running more than 83 miles. Nearly 300 of Klatt's friends, family and patients watched as he ran and walked the course. Throughout the night, his supporters donated $25 to run or walk with him for 30 minutes. His efforts raised $27,000 to fight cancer.

From this humble beginning Relay For Life events are now held annually in all 50 states, and in communities spanning 19 countries outside of the United States.

The local event still runs much the same way as the original did, according to Furnish.

"It's a 24-hour event. Teams of people camp out at Skyview High School and take turns walking or running around the track. Each team is asked to have a representative on the track at all times during the event," she said.

The American Cancer Society's recommendation is for each participant to set a personal goal to raise $100, and those who do, receive a T-shirt, but Furnish said there is not a required amount of money to be raised in order to participate in Relay For Life.

"We'll accept a donation of any amount," she said.

The event will begin with a survivors' dinner at 5:30 p.m. on Friday evening, followed by the opening ceremonies at 6 p.m., at which time survivors are encouraged to make the first lap.

"At 11 p.m. the luminaria ceremony will begin," Furnish said.

This event allows people to purchase bags to honor those fighting cancer, or in memory of those who haven't survived cancer. Names, photos and heartfelt messages are written on the bags, which are placed around the track and candles inside are lit up as darkness falls.

This year, Relay For Life also teamed up with the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, and instead of using sand to anchor the luminaria bags, canned goods are being sought to be used instead.

These canned goods will be given to the Food Bank immediately following the event.

"We'll have entertainment, music and food throughout the event. Lots of fun activities for families and children are also planned, including a rooster crowing contest, a best bedhead contest and a pancake eating contest on Saturday, just to name a few," Furnish said.

For more information on the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, visit their Web site for the event at or for information on the local event, call 283-2334 or 260-8031.

The Relay for Life begins today with a survivors' dinner at 5:30 p.m., followed by opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. at Skyview High School. For more information, call 283-2334 or 260-8031.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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