Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
Relay For Life has really ingrained itself into American tradition. Every year we celebrate Thanksgiving, celebrate Christmas and then celebrate the survivors, victory and progress of the most successful cancer initiative in the world.
The Lowndes County chapter of Relay For Life will be celebrating 20 years at their May 3, 2013 event, but the history goes back much farther.
In the mid-1980's, a Tacoma, Wash. colorectal surgeon named Dr. Gordy Klatt wanted to enhance the income of the American Cancer Society. He decided to personally raise money for the fight by running marathons, something he long enjoyed.
In May 1985, Klatt spent 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 that night.
Months later, Klatt pulled together a small committee to plan the first team relay event. In 1986, 19 teams too part in the first team relay event on the track in the historical Stadium Bowl in Tacoma and raised $33,000. It was the humble beginnings of Relay For Life.
The Lowndes County chapter of Relay For Life began in 1993. Making a significant impact to the cause, last year alone Lowndes County had 102 teams and raised a total of $265,000.
A year long effort, so far, Lowndes County has 52 teams registered to work towards a goal of $266,000.
Running like a well-oiled machine, the Lowndes County Relay For Life committee — chaired by AT&T's Robi Dixon and co-chaired by Angela Hobby from Wiregrass Georgia Technical College and Jami West from Cato — is the heart of the operation.
“The success of Relay For Life really begins with the committee,” said the Lowndes County manager of the American Cancer Society Ashley Braswell.
Though the committee is strictly volunteer work and thrives off the charity of those individuals and businesses around them, the committee as well as the effort runs much like a major corporation.
“Just like any other business, energy goes from the top down,” said Braswell.
Dixon's enthusiasm for the cause is contagious and can in large part be attributed to his own fight with cancer.
Dixon was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1997.
“I'm just one survivor, but there are a lot more survivors out there,” said Dixon.
For Dixon, Relay For Life is like a fellowship and like it has for him, it can create a sort of camaraderie for the businesses that choose to participate.
“This can be something to draw employees together,” said Dixon. “As a team . . . it builds camaraderie and morale in a business.”
Dixon has seen this first hand, so by participating in Relay For Life, you’re not only creating a happier and healthier environment for your employees to work in, but you’re helping the American Cancer Society find a cure for cancer.
“It unites a business,” said Braswell. “There are so many people affected by cancer, and that's true with employees as well.”
According to Dixon, even if you can't be on or create a team, you can sponsor a team and that's another great way to promote business as well.
“They may put your business name on a t-shirt,” said Dixon.
Often times, Dixon will frequent businesses who support Relay For Life and many other community members share the same mentality.
“Definitely, you can promote your business through Relay,” said Dixon.
Supporting Relay For Life as a business shows that not only does the business support their employees, but that they are committed to helping the community.
“It makes a business stand out,” said Braswell.
Also like a major corporation, communication in Relay for Life is key.
“Communication is continuous,” said Braswell.
Relay for Life holds monthly meetings for team captains called team rally's — because the whole team can come if they choose — to ensure that the line of communication is always open and create a foundation of help and guidance.
To solicit more support, Relay For Life will be hosting their annual Purple Passion Party at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College.
“There is purple everywhere,” said Braswell. “The committee is in full
While it's a great networking event, they also take time to share heartfelt stories to motivate people to keep the good fight going.
While Relay For Life has always and will always be about fighting for a cure for cancer, it offers additional benefits to help your business. It offers promotion, advertising and gives people in the community an additional incentive to come to your business. When you participate in Relay For Life, everybody wins.