Robbers and cancer had better beware: Tacoma won’t be defeated by either of you

Children steal bag of money from North Tacoma garage sale raising money to fight cancer

Two young boys stole a bag of money containing up to $500 from volunteers at a garage sale raising money to fight cancer in North Tacoma.
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Two young boys stole a bag of money containing up to $500 from volunteers at a garage sale raising money to fight cancer in North Tacoma.

When a pair of grab-and-dash robbers targeted a Relay For Life yard sale in North Tacoma last weekend, the Cancer Stompers fundraising team lost hundreds of dollars, and a man who unsuccessfully tried chasing down the crooks was left with a broken wrist and thumb.

But the ambush didn’t leave volunteers paralyzed by fear or anger. All it did was rally community members who heard about the heist to show up and contribute over $1,000, more than making up for what was stolen.

It also reinforced a message Tacoma’s been sending for more than three decades: This city won’t be stopped in its tracks when it comes to fighting cancer.

How fitting that the yard sale happened a few weeks before the 35th running of Tacoma’s Relay for Life. The international event that’s part American Cancer Society fundraiser, survivor support group and tent revival meeting was born here, and the teammates who will tirelessly circle the Mount Tahoma High School track for 24 hours on May 17-18 know a little something about resilience.

They’re counting on the community to show up, fill the bleachers and cheer on participants. They’re inviting all to come see the lighting of the luminaria, a poignant after-dark tribute to lives claimed by cancer whose memories glow brightly. And they’re asking people to give any way possible, whether by pledging money to Relay participants, spending at the silent auction or raffle, or buying a commemorative 35 Years of Hope T-shirt.

We expect the anniversary will bring out the gritty, big-hearted best in the Relay’s hometown.

The phenomenon started in unassuming fashion in 1985. A local surgeon, Gordon Klatt, ran and walked more than 83 miles on the University of Puget Sound track in 24 hours and raised $27,000 to honor a young man who died of cancer. A year later, 19 teams joined Klatt at Stadium Bowl and raised $33,000.

It grew exponentially from there. Relays are now held in more than 5,200 communities and 20 countries, from Gig Harbor to Guam, Sumner to South Africa. Billions of dollars have been raised for cancer research, patient support, education, detection and treatment.

Over the years Klatt became known as the Relay’s father, while Pat Flynn was its mother. After watching Klatt through the locked UPS track gates in 1985, Flynn went on to become the self-appointed “details person” for the growing event.

Both have passed away — Flynn died of kidney failure last July, so this year’s Tacoma event will be rich with remembrances —but their legacy dwells in the hearts of Relayers everywhere. (And their story lives on in “The Adventures of Gordy and Pat,” a digital download available online.)

Their efforts, and those of countless Relay volunteers, are a living testament. The disease can strike with the swift malignance of a robbery in broad daylight, as local residents know well; Pierce County exceeds the state average in new diagnoses of some types of cancer, including lung and cervical cancer.

But Tacoma has shown the world how to respond with class. As one shopper who helped rescue the Cancer Stompers yard sale said: “You know it just says that good conquers all.”