Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Volunteers Carrie Sheehan of Lawrenceville, Nicole Hallmark of Snellville, Brenda Perdue of Suwanee and Becky Mitchell of Lawrenceville prepare for the upcoming Relay for Life at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville on Tuesday. The group of volunteers consisting of mostly women packed 10,000 T-shirts along with making "walking in honor of" bibs for participants. For the past 10 years Gwinnett County's Relay for Life has been the world's top-grossing fundraiser of the American Cancer Society. The Relay for Life event will take place at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville at 6 p.m. on Friday.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- With Gwinnett County's own world-leading event quickly approaching, the Relay for Life community was saddened recently with news that its founder, Dr. Gordy Klatt, has himself been diagnosed with cancer.
Klatt, a colorectal surgeon, planted the seeds for Relay for Life, which has raised nearly $5 billion for the American Cancer Society over the years, in 1985. That year, he raised $27,000 by walking around a track in Tacoma, Wash., for 24 straight hours.
In an email to ACS staff last week, he announced his own battle.
"About four weeks ago I was diagnosed with stomach cancer and I have begun my battle with this disease using chemotherapy and then surgery this summer," Klatt said. "I feel the tremendous camaraderie and support of my family, my friends and my colleagues."
Locally, longtime Gwinnett Relay volunteer Duane Downs grew emotional when asked about the news.
"I'm sure God's wisdom and guidance are being asked all over the world today," Downs said. "So that if there's any chance whatsoever that He can help (Klatt), He will."
Bill Manson, ACS' area executive director for Gwinnett, said Klatt will be honored at the county's Relay for Life event, which will begin at 6 p.m. Friday at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.
A special luminaria will be lit in Klatt's honor, and members of the group Mothers and Daughters Against Cancer will speak to the crowd about the founder's battle, Manson said. "Big" luminarias made of cardboard will be available for Relayers to sign and write messages for Klatt.
"The Gwinnett Relay for Life and the Gwinnett community is just pleased to be able to honor Dr. Klatt in this way," Manson said.
For the last 10 years, Gwinnett's Relay has been the top-grossing ACS fundraiser in the world, appropriately earning the Gordy Klatt Award.
Though the economy has taken its toll, this year's Relay looks to be another huge event. As of Wednesday evening, more than 6,000 participants and nearly 300 teams were registered online. Almost $900,000 was accounted for at gwinnettrelayforlife.org.
Festivities will begin with opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. Friday before a survivor's lap at 7 p.m., luminaria ceremony at 10:30 p.m. and closing ceremonies at 6:30 a.m. Saturday.
There will be parking at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds site, but Relayers are encouraged to use satellite parking lots and shuttles. Shuttles will be available from lots at the Lawrenceville Church of God (329 Grayson Highway) and the Gwinnett Elections Office (455 Grayson Highway).
Parking along Sugarloaf Parkway will not be permitted.
IF YOU GO
What: Gwinnett County Relay for Life
When: Friday, 6 p.m.
Where: Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville
More info: Additional parking and shuttles will be available at the Lawrenceville Church of God (329 Grayson Highway) and the Gwinnett Elections Office (455 Grayson Highway)