For the past 20 weeks leading up to our 20th Annual Race for the Cure, we’ve shared stories with you from various people who have been gracious enough to share their memories of past Komen Columbus Races with us. This blog is our last feature story in this series. Thank you to all our sponsors, volunteers, survivors, grantees and advocates for your continued support and for standing alongside us to serve the men and women in our 30-county service area. Together we can saves lives. Together we will find a cure.
Week 20: The Brother Inspired by his Sister’s Spirit
When the Komen Columbus Race for the Cure rolls around every May, Miguel Perez is one of the happiest people in central Ohio. He says this is the time of year he truly feels closer to his sister’s spirit.
Vicki Speakman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991. Miguel says he still remembers hearing the devastating news.
“We were naive,” said Miguel, “We never thought it would happen to us. It shook our family to the core, we were speechless and we had a million questions.” Vicki was the oldest of five children in a very loving and close Cuban family. Miguel, the baby of the family, was not about to let his big sister go through this alone and he vowed to do whatever he could to help Vicki with her battle.
For 11 years, Miguel was there as Vicki went through chemo, radiation, surgeries and recovery. For 11 years, he saw his sister unselfishly reach out to help other women during their battles with breast cancer. Miguel says his sister inspired others and empowered those around her and he learned so much from her during the darkest period of her life.
“My sister was a teacher for 25 years and she just had this natural ability to relate and connect with people around her. People were drawn to her,” said Miguel.
Drawing from his sister’s strength and compassion, Miguel rallied the first team to honor his sister in 2002. Team Perez was 100 members strong. During this time, Vicki’s cancer had returned and Miguel knew that the days with his big sister were numbered.
“I will never forget that Race, Vicki was too weak to walk the course but she stood at the finish line and watched everyone on our team cross the line. I know she did that in huge part for me, to leave me with another beautiful memory…. that’s why I love this Race, she is my motivation,” said Miguel.
After the Race, a group of friends and family planned a huge party to celebrate. Miguel recalls, “Vicki told us, ‘we’ve cried enough. Now it’s time to celebrate and enjoy each other.’”
On June 3, 2002 – three weeks after the Race, Vicki Speakman passed away.
Since then, Miguel organizes a team in honor of Vicki and to also share her fighting spirit with others. Since the first Race in 2002, Team Perez has been recognized for having the largest civic team; for the past five years they have been recognized at the largest civic group, a division based on teams comprised of friends or family members. This year, there will be 800 Team Perez shirts in the sea of pink on Saturday, May 19.
When asked what Vicki would think of him rallying a team every year in her memory, Miguel laughs and quickly replies, “She would say that I was embarrassing her. Then she would give me a big hug and thank me. It was never her style to be loud or out there. That’s my job. I’m the big-mouth organizer. I am fueled by her spirit.”If you are at the Race on Saturday and hear someone encouraging you as you cross the finish line, there is a good chance it could be Miguel. He says the finish line is where he feels closest to his sister.
“No matter how emotional that day can be. I am repaid with so much love and happiness,” said Miguel, “I stand beside Komen Columbus because I know together we are making a huge impact and reaching thousands of women and saving lives.”
Miguel says the Komen Columbus Race for the Cure keeps him close to Vicki and is a reminder to keep fighting and keep advocating for women’s breast health.
“I will Race until we win and find a cure,” said Miguel.
Join Miguel and Team Perez on Saturday, May 19 for the 20th Komen Columbus Race for the Cure.
Read past Twenty Faces of Komen Columbus stories.