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'Relay for life', A family affair

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Amber Kelly-Woodward
  • 375th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
While stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colo., then Airman Christopher Kaelin, volunteered to participate in Relay For Life just to get out of the dorms.

Now, a technical sergeant at the 375th Communications Support Squadron Application Development supervisor, is O'Fallon Relay For Life event chair.

Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon, started the first Relay For Life in Tacoma, Wash., to earn more money for his American Cancer Society office and show support for his cancer patients. In May of 1985, Dr. Klatt circled a track for 24 hours while friends donated $25 to run or walk for 30 minutes and raised $27,000.

After being a participant in Colorado, Sergeant Kaelin went to Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, where he not only formed a team, but led the event.

Four years later, Sergeant Kaelin found himself in St. Ives, England, and brought Relay For Life to England for the first time.

"My wife's father was diagnosed with cancer when we were in England and he was being treated with cancer treatments that were funded by the American Cancer Society and I just became motivated," said Sergeant Kaelin. "It really brought it home when Pat's dad's treatment was developed from both sides of the pond."

One of the concepts of Relay For Life is to have a person from each team on the track at all times for 24 hours to exemplify that cancer never sleeps. Relay For Life celebrates survivors, those who have been lost, and everyone, because everyone has been touched by cancer in some way.

While in England, Sergeant Kaelin and his wife, Patricia, received the highest award given from Relay For Life.

"We received a lot of support from the base commander and I was impressed because having him on your side is huge," said Mrs. Kaelin, a pre-school teacher for children with Autism. "It is hard to accept praise for it; it humbles you."

Relay For Life has really become a family affair, as the Kaelin's 11-year-old daughter, Peyton, is also involved.

"I do a kid's team; we do a lemonade stand and get to stay up all night," said Peyton, a Mascoutah Middle School student.

The Kaelin's begin planning in June right after the event has ended and continue until the actual event, which will be held June 19 and 20 this year.

"If my family wasn't involved I couldn't have done this," said Sergeant Kaelin. "If there is something I've forgotten, they help me remember and we can put our ideas together. It's a never ending process."

In addition to family support, Sergeant Kaelin attributes his military career to his success.

"Without the military I may have never even joined," said Sergeant Kaelin. "My training from Airman Leadership School gave me confidence and helped me in my public speaking which is helpful when I have to recruit and solicit."

Relay For Life also has a strong emphasis on community. Most of the profits generated stay local.

"Being in the Air Force, people think we work on base, but we are actively involved in the community too," said Sergeant Kaelin.

There is also another group actively involved in Relay For Life here; the Thrift Shop.
Dina Crewe, a cancer survivor, participated in Relay For Life with a friend at first. Then she recruited her friends on base. She then formed the team, United We Stand Against Cancer. Eventually, the team exceeded the 15 people maximum and formed United We Stand Against Cancer II.

"It's cool because normally military wives become friends through their husbands, but our husbands became friends through us, their wives," said Jamie Messer, the co-captain for both teams.

What makes the United We Stand Against Cancer teams even more special is that last year they were the top fundraisers as they raised more than $19,000.

Relay For Life does not have a requirement for the amount of money teams have to raise. There is a $10 registration fee and Relay For Life suggests teams raise $100 each.

"We start fundraising the day after the event for the next year," said Mrs. Crewe, wife of Jeffrey Crewe, Air Mobility Command headquarters, Transportation Working Capital Fund and Operations and Maintenance program manager.

Some of their fundraisers included car washes, garage sales, working at St. Louis Cardinal's games, bake sales, wrapping presents at the Base Exchange, working at the airshow and working with local restaurants.

"Everywhere I go I always ask if they do fundraising," said Mrs. Messer, wife of Master Sgt. John Messer, AMC HQ Radio Systems manager.

While at the event, the teams do not fundraise because they want to have fun. The teams also go to other events to help out.

In addition to working at the Thrift Shop, both ladies are very busy. Mrs. Crewe is a Girl Scout Leader, a substitute teacher and a volunteer at the O'Fallon food pantry. Mrs. Messer is also a full-time student.

"The most important thing is that we raise awareness," said Mrs. Crewe. "The kids spread their information with their friends and family and it just spreads."

One-third of Americans are diagnosed with cancer, according to the Relay For Life website, but their goal is to stop cancer from being a death sentence.

Team formations are on-going. For more information, contact Sergeant Kaelin at 566-0318 or at Information can also be found at or at