Special version of DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay on Saturday

Cheyanne Neuffer
Runners from local high school track and cross-country teams across El Dorado county and Operation Rebound athlete, Richard Hunter will run the 72-mile circumference of Lake Tahoe.
Provided / Scott Leason

The 56th annual DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay will take place this year despite nearly succumbing to the coronavirus.

Race organizers have reengineered the long-running event and early Saturday morning, the tradition will continue.

While many organizers canceled races this year, DeCelle relay directors, Jim Cahill and Sean Sweeny, have changed the relay but will still honor the race’s namesake while also supporting local high schools.

“I am really excited that we are pulling this off,” Cahill said. “It is important to keep the traditional going and remember Robert DeCelle.”

“We are not going to let this virus stop us from running the race. It is a breath of fresh air for the runners and an emotional breath of fresh air for everyone else.” — Co-race director Jim Cahill

Instead of 100 teams of seven competing, just one team of seven will take turns running the 72 miles around the lake.

For this year’s relay, runners were chosen by their coaches from local high schools to run with Richard Hunter from Operation Rebound, an organization that supports wounded veterans and first responders.

Hunter, of Fair Oaks, Calif., was part of the United States Marine Corp before going blind.

After his diagnosis, he changed his focus to sports and physical activity. Hunter has run in several marathons, including the California International Marathon and Boston Marathon to name a couple.

Hunter’s efforts brought together the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes National Marathon Championships with the California International Marathon.

Hunter will run the last leg of the relay and will fulfill the Operation Rebound’s motto ‘Frontline to Finish Line.’ He will be live-streamed by drone footage.

Cahill used a grant he received from the El Dorado Community Foundation to reinvest in the relay and community.

“We are not going to let this virus stop us from running the race,” Cahill said. “It is a breath of fresh air for the runners and an emotional breath of fresh air for everyone else.”

One team of seven is how the race initially started in 1959. It was started by college students who bet each other they could run the 72 miles around the lake.

The bet transformed into a tradition known as the Lake Tahoe Relay and in 1964, Chairman of the American Athletic Union’s distance running committee, Robert E. DeCelle Sr., made the relay official.

The relay soon became connected to the Olympics. The Summer 1968 Olympics were held in Mexico City.

Before the games began, runners would come to the basin and practice on Echo Summit since the elevation was near the same as Mexico City. The Lake Tahoe Relay was a way that Olympic athletes could train and have fun.

This year’s gold baton is a commemorative race baton from the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

After several years of the relay, in 1971, Robert E. DeCelle Jr. was killed in Vietnam. DeCelle Jr. was a high school and college runner. He also participated in the relay. In honor of DeCelle Jr., the Lake Tahoe Relay was renamed in his honor.

The relay’s fastest time of 7 hours and 22 minutes was broken in 1982 by six Olympian runners from the University of Nevada, Reno. The runners who ran the distance in 6 hours, 16 minutes and 22 seconds were from Columbia and South Africa.

The 2020 relay will start at Lakeview Commons at 6:15 a.m. Saturday. Each runner will run about 8-12 miles to complete the circumference of the lake, passing off the baton at each leg.

Event directors have adapted the race to ensure safety protocols and social distancing. Parents will also follow the high school runners around the lake.

Runners that go through Cave Rock and Inspiration Point will be transported by car across due to safety reasons.

Donations raised will go to El Dorado County high schools’ track and cross-country teams including El Dorado High School, South Tahoe High School, Ponderosa High School, Oak Ridge HIgh School, Union Mine High School and Operation Rebound.

The directors also wanted to bring attention to the March 2021 fundraiser for the Veterans Reunion at Lake Tahoe. Cahill also flew combat missions in Vietnam and says this relay is important to remember and honor those who served. Cahill is also dedicated to Operation Rebound and has been working with the organization for almost a decade.

The relay is not only a competition, but has evolved into a lasting tradition and reunion for many people.

The relay will be live streamed by drone on Lake Tahoe TV.

People who donate will receive shirts, baseball hats and glasses depending on donation.

“I believe that this is a really cool thing that the whole country should know about.”

For more information or to donate while watching the livestream, visit,

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