Relay for Life - Saving Lives, One Lap at a Time


Survivors walk together in the rain.


Hearing the words, “You’ve got cancer” is one of the scariest things you or a loved one will ever experience. Almost everyone has either been told this about themselves or a loved one, and everyone knows someone impacted by this disease. Suddenly, a life is overturned and becomes a rollercoaster of medical appointments, uncertainty and fear. You may be feeling overwhelmed and alone, but the reality is you’re not, you have a solid team ready to support and help -- The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

A little background on Relay for Life: In May 1985, Dr. Gordon “Gordy” Klatt walked and ran for 24 hours around a track in Tacoma, Washington, raising money to help the American Cancer Society. Gordy spent a grueling 24 hours circling the track at the University of Puget Sound. Friends, family, and patients watched and supported him as he walked and ran more than 83.6 miles and raised $27,000 through pledges to help save lives from cancer. As he circled the track, he thought of how he could get others to take part. He envisioned having teams participate in a 24-hour fundraising event. The next year, 19 teams were part of the first Relay For Life event at the historical Stadium Bowl and raised $33,000. Today, Relay For Life is an internationally recognizable brand, involving entire communities with one mutual goal – eradicating cancer! There are 20 countries around the world celebrating the lives saved; remembering those lives lost, and those fighting back every day. Billions of dollars have been raised since then and all money goes to research, advocacy, awareness, assistance with active treatment such as helping with transportation and lodging, and screening for all, not just those with insurance.

Clifton, as you might imagine with its large and diverse population – as well as various groups that love to help out – has a long history with Relay as well. Various groups have come together with different team captains and clever, creative names that have changed throughout the years. They include the Red Hat Angels, Book a Cure, and Soul Sisters (more have participated but may no longer be active). For years, Relay was an overnight event, held at Clifton Stadium, except for the year the field was under construction, when it was held at City Hall. The decision was also made to no longer do overnight, which was tough on everyone. Now it ends before midnight.

Team Captains reach out to family and friends for them to support and participate, register with the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, and are assigned a contact from the ACS. Together, they determine a theme that is usually based on the national theme, and discuss fundraising goals. Captains can ask team members to step up and take active roles in running the event, or just ask for support the night of the event, which leads us to what “the event” is – an evening when Teams and individuals fundraise and take turns walking around a track or path. The first lap is taken by cancer survivors, followed by caregivers, and then, the community. After dark, there is a luminaria ceremony, when white paper bags containing electronic candles are placed around the track. Everyone has the opportunity to purchase a luminaria bag for $10 and decorate it as they wish with a tribute to a loved one who’s fighting, has survived, or has lost their battle with cancer. Prayers and music accompany a brief introduction and a last walk around the track with walkers holding lit electronic candles takes place in silence. It’s an incredibly emotional tribute and a wonderful way to honor the fight.

Of course, the ultimate goal of Relay is fundraising, and through the years, that has ranged from tagging, to selling shirts and cookbooks, asking for donations at local events, restaurants sharing a portion of an evening’s proceeds, and local companies donating funds as well. This year’s fundraising efforts will include “Paint for a Cure” and “Mootz Night.” Paint for A Cure will be held at Pencilworks Studio in Little Falls on Sunday, March 19th at 1:00 PM at a cost of $40, payable by Venmo (@cliftonrutherfordrfl) or cash at the door. Mootz Night will be Monday, April 6th at 7:00 PM (and is BYOB Wine), at a location TBA, where you’ll learn to make your own delicious, what else, “Mootz”, for $50 per person. Please contact Dan Meredith at Other fundraisers are in the planning stages and you can bet you’ll learn about them in The Clifton Times!

The main event, Relay for Life, was held on a cold and rainy May night at Clifton Stadium last year, and this year, will be held on SATURDAY, MAY 13TH, 2023 from 6:00 to 11:00 PM at TRYON FIELD, 52 Darwin Ave, in Rutherford and will return to Clifton Stadium in 2024. The evening features information on all types of cancer, speakers, food and drink, a Survivor’s Tent with dinner, giveaways, games for children, music, and of course, that emotional and inspirational final lap of people walking together, unified in their efforts to win. This year’s theme is “Super Heroes” – so please come join us and together, there is nothing we can’t do!

Future features in the Clifton Times will include more information on teams, team members, and stories from our survivors. For more information, please log onto our Facebook Page or the Relay for Life website.

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