Dr. Gordy Klatt: A True American Hero

Relay is making a difference today in thousands of communities across the nation and in 20 countries across the globe, thanks to one man and his vision to help make a change. The movement began from humble roots, though the hard work and dedication of Dr. Gordy Klatt.

Gordy was a colorectal surgeon working in Tacoma, Washington, specializing in cancer. He wanted to support his local American Cancer Society office, and in the spring of 1985, came up with the perfect idea! Gordy spent 24 hours circling the track at the University of Puget Sound with over 300 of his friends and family, who paid $25 each to walk or run for 30 minutes with him. In the process, he walked and ran over 83 miles, and raised $27,000.

While he ran, Klatt thought of how he could improve the event in future years and continue to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Over the next year, he assembled a committee and in Spring 1986, the first Relay For Life was held on the same track as the “City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer.” At this event, 19 teams raised more than $33,000, and the Relay movement was born!

Despite the success of Relay and the progress made by the ACS in the fight against cancer, over 1.5 million Americans will still be diagnosed with cancer each year, and sadly Gordy was diagnosed with stomach cancer in spring 2012. He passed away on August 3, 2014 from heart failure after battling stomach cancer.

Today, Gordy’s legacy lives on in Relay, with over 5,000 events in 20 countries, and over $5 billion raised for the fight against cancer. Although he is no longer leading the movement, his passion and dedication for fighting cancer lives on every time we Celebrate, Remember, and Fight Back. As we come closer to a world with less cancer and more more birthdays, take a moment at your next Remember ceremony to reflect on the amazing impact one man has had on so many people. 

Check out these videos to hear Gordy’s inspirational words:

Blog by: Alex Pfadenhauer and Colleen Eccless of the North Regional Campus Leadership Team