Twenty Faces of Komen Columbus: Week Eight

Since this May 19, 2012 will be the 20th Annual Komen Columbus Race for the Cure, for the next 20 weeks we’re going to spotlight 20 individuals who have participated in the Race throughout the years. They come from all walks of life and may be survivors, volunteers, grantees, sponsors or advocates, but they’re all committed to the fight against breast cancer.

Week 8: The One Who Kept the Race Going
Guest post by Debra Pack

When Kathi Helmrath walked in her first Komen Columbus Race for the Cure, it was in its second year. “We were back in Columbus (after a move to Cleveland) and I heard about it on the radio. I decided to come out and see what it was all about.”

And did she ever.

Kathi at the 2009 Race

She had been a survivor for 1½ years. The race was not very big. In fact, it was small enough that everyone’s name was announced as they crossed the finish line. And this resulted in one of the moments that Kathi treasures.

Kathi was a kindergarten teacher at Tremont Elementary in Upper Arlington before she moved to Cleveland. Walking in the race that day too was the mom of a former student. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer. When Kathi’s name was announced, a sea of girls came to hug her, led by the mom – Cindy Dyas, dedicated volunteer and one of the reasons the Race for the Cure started in Columbus.

The girls who were there cheering for Cindy were now cheering Kathi’s success at the finish line. What a memorable moment and the start of a beautiful partnership with Komen Columbus.

Kathi started volunteering for the race soon after and didn’t walk in the race again until 2011 – too much work to be done planning and working at the race.

Not that she regrets a moment of it.

Kathi cheering on volunteers.

After her diagnosis, Kathi sought out support groups, but found they just weren’t for her. Participating in the race was a way to be proactive, to meet people and other survivors, and to find out about the latest advances in the fight against breast cancer.

She’s amazed at how Komen Columbus has grown. One part-time paid person with one committee and group of volunteers that met in a house has evolved into a paid staff, specialized committees, a large corps of volunteers and an office in Westerville.

And in the past she spent hours on the phone arranging for three marshals at every road corner. Now it’s done with much more sophisticated technology.

Kathi was president of the Board of Directors during 1999 and 2000. She remembers when the number of participants passed 5,000. “I didn’t think we would ever get more than 5,000. Seeing the horde of pink shirts coming toward me was just amazing.” Each year she experiences something that makes her think “it can’t get any better than this,” but each year it does.

The first Leveque Tower lighting was on the exact day of her 5-year survivorship. Even though she knew it wasn’t so, she felt like it was lit just for her. What she didn’t know was that her daughter had planned a surprise party for her later that night.

Kathi with the late Stefanie Spielman at the 1999 Race.

The support of her family has been important to Kathi. Her two grandsons used to roll out of bed during their high school years to volunteer – and recruit their friends to help. The reward: helping with a cause meaningful to them – and lunch afterward.

Every race is new, with unique experiences. But there is one common experience Kathi would like to see end. She has lost another friend this year, whose name will be added to the “in memory of” list on her shirt. She wants to stop adding names to that list.

In 1999, as Miss May of the My Hope calendar, Kathi said: “My hope is best expressed by the mission statement of the Race for the Cure, which is ‘to eradicate breast cancer as a life threatening disease by advancing research, education, screening and treatment.’”

Mission statements change over time, but the goal of Komen Columbus’ staff, volunteers, supporters and survivors remains the same: a world without the need for T-shirts bearing the names of those lost to the devastating disease.

Kathi's page in the "My Hope Calendar" of 1999 from the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital.