Relay for Life happening early this year to make way for US Open

Walkers participating in the nation’s original Relay for Life will round the track at Mount Tahoma High School a bit earlier this year than usual, a change organizers made to avoid conflicts with the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.

The American Cancer Society fundraiser, which got its start 30 years ago at University of Puget Sound, usually starts the second Friday in June. But this year, that date is on the cusp of the start of the United States Golf Association championship in University Place.

So planners decided last fall to move the event almost a week earlier to steer completely clear of last-minute preparations for the thousands of golf fans expected to visit the area. This year’s relay will begin at noon Saturday (June 6) and last until noon the next day, June 7.

“It was in consideration for the facts and logistics with all the people coming in and out of the area,” relay spokesman Michael Fort said. “We thought it would be good to move the date up.”

Relay for Life is a 24-hour overnight community fundraising walk in which teams of participants, sponsored by donors, take turns walking around the track.

Relay for Life was launched in 1985 when Dr. Gordon Klatt spent 24 hours walking around the track at Baker Stadium at UPS. He raised $27,000.

Today, Relay for Life is the largest nonprofit fundraiser in the world with more than 5,500 events in more than 18 countries, raising more than $400 million a year.

Next weekend’s event will be the first relay held in Tacoma since Klatt’s death. He died Aug. 3 at the age of 71 from heart failure after battling stomach cancer.

Events on the relay’s first day will commemorate him. Pat Flynn, who joined forces with Klatt in 1986 to build the relay, will lead a ceremony to celebrate Klatt’s memory at 6 p.m. following the 3 p.m. installation of a sculpture honoring Klatt. The sculpture, to be on permanent display at Mount Tahoma, is a 6-foot-high steel globe, showing a pair of hands embracing the world.

Organizers say they have more than 135 teams and 1,386 participants registered for next weekend’s event. Fort said they are expecting to top the approximately $600,000 that was raised last year.

He said the date change hasn’t caused any problems. The U.S Open may even end up benefiting the relay, Fort said.

“People here for the U.S. Open may come for the relay,” he said.