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Reston Relay for Life

The annual fundraiser will be held at South Lakes High School, starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 15.

In an effort to raise funds for his local American Cancer Society, colorectal surgeon and marathon enthusiast Gordy Klatt pulled on his jogging shoes and started running around a Tacoma, Washington track for 24 hours straight.

Klatt’s run in the mid-1980s generated $27,000 for ACS and was the first Relay for Life, a now-annual fundraiser held in roughly 3,800 communities across the United States and in eight foreign countries. Last year, Relay for Life events raised more than $300 million for cancer research, services and advocacy.

On Saturday, May 15, the Reston community will hold its 8th annual Relay for Life event at South Lakes High School. For 24 hours, teams of volunteers will circle the high school’s track, raising money for ACS through sponsorship and donations.

At the 2003 Reston Relay, 162 teams participated and helped to raise nearly $300,000. In the last eight years, the Reston event has raised more than $2 million for ACS.

In addition to the running, jogging and walking around South Lakes’ track, the Reston Relay will feature live entertainment, contests and family activities. The event will officially commence at 1 p.m. with a "victory lap" for cancer survivors. At dusk, luminaries will be lighted around the track, with each candle representing an individual cancer victim from the Reston area.

"The entire purpose of the event is to have a community celebration in a fun, family atmosphere where participants can remember cancer victims and honor cancer survivors," said Andrew Sterling, Reston Relay for Life’s spokesman.

Sterling is a volunteer, along with nearly everyone else involved in Reston Relay, helping to keep overhead costs down so more money can be contributed to fighting cancer. Expenses of the event are kept below 10 percent, ensuring that 90 cents of every dollar goes to ACS, said Maryann Carr, a co-chair of the Reston Relay.

"Their mission is a very powerful one, which is finding a cure for cancer in our lifetime," Carr said.

RESTON RELAY FOR LIFE is one of the biggest annual draws of volunteers in the region. The event’s popularity can be explained by the cause, which has affected most people’s families in some way, but also because the Reston Relay is simply a good time, Sterling said.

Many of the teams of volunteers, which are comprised of Reston area friends, families, businesses and organizations, will attend dressed in costumes and center their team around a particular theme. Last year, for instance, Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston), a Reston Relay regular, wore a tuxedo.

At least one member of each team is required to be on the track at all times, but most teams will spend much of the 24 hours circling the track together, singing songs, chanting and carrying banners.

"It’s kind of a show of strength," Sterling said.

Mark Rohr, also a co-chair of the event and a Fairfax County firefighter, said Reston Relay for Life celebrates the lives of cancer survivors and honors the lives of those who didn't make it.

"This has been a long fight and all indicators show this going to be a fight for the foreseeable future," he said. "We can use everybody’s help."

Spending the better part of 24 hours walking around a high school track is a grueling experience, Rohr said, but at the end of the day, it’s readily apparent that participants felt it was worth it.

"You're so tired. Everything hurts. But you’re so satisfied because you’ve done some good," he said.

Apart from the money raised for ACS, the event also helps the cause by simply reminding people that cancer is still out there and research is being conducted to find a cure, Rohr said.

"It helps the community as a whole focus on the disease," he said. "It lets them see the broad spectrum of people it affects."