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In 1959, that’s when the idea of the DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe was born… and it all started with a dare. A couple of runners from San Jose State College thought, “Hey, I bet you we can run around Lake Tahoe!” This proposition in their minds was HUGE. 72-miles around the Lake at over 6,000’ above sea level is not a normal afternoon run. Over their New Year’s holiday, they did just that! Looking back at what they had just accomplished and thinking, “MAN, this should be something everyone should have a chance to do”, the inkling of a new tradition was sparked. What started out as a gag over New Year’s holiday in 1959 evolved into the Lake Tahoe Relay. Starting in 1964 with the help of Robert E DeCelle Sr., chairman of the American Athletic Union’s (AAU) long distance Running Committee, the Lake Tahoe Relay was officially born.

How The Olympics Helped Make The Lake Tahoe Relay A Reality

1968 Summer Olympics Closing Ceremony

Sergio V. Rodriguez / CC BY-SA (

For those that remember, the Summer Olympics of 1968 were held in Mexico City at an elevation of 7,382’. To prepare for such a high altitude, the US Olympic team built a track on top of Echo Summit. It was the EXACT same elevation as they would compete in Mexico City. Robert saw the Lake Tahoe Relay as the perfect opportunity to run and train at altitude as well. He therefore sanctioned the Lake Tahoe Relay through the AAU. His hope was to give potential Olympic runners a chance to get ready for such a high elevation as well as have a good time!

How It Became The DeCelle Memorial

Captain Robert E DeCelleWith Robert’s help, the relay gathered steam and continued to become more popular not just for would-be Olympians but everyday people. Sadly in 1971, tragedy struck for the DeCelle Family. Captain Robert E DeCelle Jr. was killed-in-action in Vietnam while drawing enemy fire away from troops on the ground. Robert Jr. was a good High School and Junior College runner before serving in Vietnam and even ran the Lake Tahoe Relay event. Peter Matti, who succeeded Robert Sr. at the AAU, requested the name of the relay be changed to the “DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay” in Robert Jr.’s honor. This event has become not just a race but a reunion for multiple generations of families and friends.

Please join us this Summer for the 2020 DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay on June 13! Regardless if it’s your first time or your 10th, we’ll make you feel part of the family and right at home!

– The Sweeney Family, directors of fun!