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 Ten: The Ones Who Started it All
Twenty years ago, three dedicated volunteers worked together tirelessly to bring the first-ever Race for the Cure to Columbus. While breast cancer was something they had all been exposed to for various reasons, the force that fueled their fire for starting the event was Nancy G. Brinker, the woman who had promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything in her power to find the cure for breast cancer.
“I was on the board of the American Cancer Society in Columbus when Nancy Brinker came to town and spoke to us about starting a Race for the Cure,” said Yvonne Simon-Perotti. “Ellen Hardymon was also on the board and together we stepped off and started the first Komen Columbus board. I served as president in 1995 and was on the board for 10 years.”
While Yvonne has been a breast cancer survivor since 1974, for Ellen, it was the diagnosis of breast cancer in a close friend that motivated her to get involved.
“I felt a desire to get involved and help bring something successful to Columbus,” Ellen said. “I thought the money raised from the Race could help fund breast cancer education, screening and treatment as we could see how this model had been successful in other cities.”
About the same time Ellen and Yvonne began working on organizing the first Race, Mike Collins, who had worked with New Balance on a number of running events, followed up with his contact there about helping with the Columbus Race, which he credits with part of the reason he decided to get involve with Komen. The other reason is extremely close-to-home for Mike.
“My mom had a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy and was in remission for 7 and a half years. The cancer returned, metastasized, and she died within a year. She passed in February and we held the first Race in September.”
At the time, Columbus was the 12th or 14th city across the country to hold a Race for the Cure. (In 2012, more than 125 affiliates throughout the U.S. and across the world will have Race events.)
After months of organizing, the first Columbus Race was held on September 18, 1993.
“We had a lot of support from the community,” remembered Ellen. “All the hospitals and the media got involved, it seemed like everyone wanted to help. Our sponsors knew the money raised was going to stay in our community.”
The first Race brought 749 people downtown and raised $54,000.
“We were pleased to get it off the ground and running and turned right back around and started planning for having the second Race in May,” Ellen said.
“Seeing all the people come out that first year was really impressive, but the second Race was when it really stuck,” said Mike. “My mother was my motivation for helping and it was extremely comforting to work with Ellen and Yvonne on this. They were so dedicated and really helped it to grow.”
By the time the second Race rolled around, nearly 1,800 participants came downtown and the group had “a cubbyhole of an office” with Ellen serving as the first Board President.
The Race took off from there, and it wasn’t long before the money raised at the Race really started to make an impact in the community.
“The fifth Race was when we first raised $1 million. The 10th Race was really emotional for me, as that was the 10th anniversary of my mother’s death,” Mike said. “I’ve only physically missed three of the Races throughout the years, but ran a 5K on those days when I was out of town.”
For Ellen, the opportunity to provide support to survivors is amazing.
“All you need to do is take a look at what’s going on and think about the support you give to breast cancer survivors. It’s absolutely incredible,” Ellen said. “I can remember when the Dispatch put together an insert for the paper that was huge – it had race info, directions, etc. So many people were interested in volunteering and helping. Unfortunately someone always knows someone who has been affected.”
Yvonne stayed involved for many years for the camaraderie that came with the people involved.
“I loved working with the survivors that came on the board; the non-survivors’ commitment was phenomenal, but we’re in a different sorority as survivors. We were very close to Stefanie [Spielman] and have lost too many others who were very close to the cause and to us.”
Ellen also remembers working with Cindy Dyas, a young mother who was diagnosed in 1991 and passionately volunteered as part of the first Board of Directors while battling breast cancer. She passed away in 2005 and an annual Komen Columbus award for survivors is presented in her honor.
After years or Racing, Yvonne, Ellen and Mike still look forward to attending every year.
“Our children know the Race is about ‘Grandma Shirley’ and look forward to running and beating me every year,” Mike said.
For Ellen, the visual impact of 50,000 runners and walkers keeps her coming back.
“All you need to do is go down to the event to be energized. Just to see everything. You always hope you see more survivors. I’ve never been involved in any other event that gives you more energy and makes you want to do it again.”
The Komen Columbus affiliate would not be what it is today without the tireless dedication of these three volunteers, and Yvonne loved being part of starting the organization from scratch.
“Very early on I attended the New York City Race and they were trying to light the Empire State Building pink,” Yvonne said. “I thought we should have the same in Columbus, so I approached Katherine LeVeque about changing her lights pink.”
Twenty years later, the changing of the LeVeque Tower lights to pink is a welcome sign that the Race is near thanks to the efforts of Yvonne, Ellen and Mike.
That’s 20 years of pink lights, teams, t-shirts and thousands and thousands of bananas. Throughout the years the Race has evolved from a fairly small gathering with friends, family and neighbors to the largest event in Central Ohio and the second largest Race for the Cure in the country. We are indebted to the dedication of these passionate breast cancer advocates and thankful that 20 years ago, they chose to get involved.
Click here to register for the Race on May 19, 2012, and continue what Mike, Ellen and Yvonne helped to start.