Health Team

Runners cross finish line in race against breast cancer

More than 23,700 runners and walkers participated in the Triangle's annual Komen Race for the Cure on Saturday.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — More than 23,700 runners and walkers participated in the Triangle's annual Komen Race for the Cure on Saturday.

Organizers said they hoped the event raised around $2 million, which will be distributed among local organizations that support breast-cancer education, patient services and research for a cure.

"It's of the most inspirational days and most palpable, emotional days that I've ever felt," breast cancer survivor Chelsea Gibbs said. "It's a day to do volunteerism, ... and it's also a day to raise money to ultimately eradicate breast cancer."

The co-ed competitive 5K kicked off at 7 a.m., and the winner crossed the finish line 15 minutes later. The main co-ed 5K run/walk began at 9 a.m., followed by a mile-long fun run/walk. Children joined in the Little Road Runners' Race, a 100-yard dash.

All races went down Hillsborough Street, which was closed at 5 a.m., and ended on Meredith College's campus.

"There were some real challenging moments during the race," said WRAL anchor Pam Saulsby, who ran in the competitive 5K. "And I started thinking ... of the women who have had breast cancer and did not survive ... of women and the disparities in health care. ... And I said, 'Run for them, run for the women who can’t be here.' ... I started thinking of their faces, and it really just fueled me, ... and I never stopped."

A ceremony after the race encouraged those battling breast cancer, honored its survivors and remembered those who had fallen to it.

"You've got brand-new survivors; you've got survivors 35 years out," said Paulette Pauley, who's survived breast cancer for 19 years. "It's a really great way to come together. It's a really great big support group."

"I've already seen people who are obviously going through chemo, don't have hair, don't have eyebrows. They're walking into the survivors' tent, and they just have smiles," Gibbs said.

Organizers urged runners and walkers to take it easy after smoke from a wildfire in eastern North Carolina prompted air-quality warnings in the Triangle this week. Fifteen emergency-medical technicians were stationed along the race route.

Approximately 850 volunteers toted 38,000 bottles of water to the race site and prepared 19,000 bags of food for the participants. Planning for the race began in September.

Up to 75 percent of the money raised goes to local organizations, which are involved in breast-cancer education and patient care for about 20,000 women in 13 counties.

"People see that their money goes to work right here in the community ... and know that we're good stewards of their money," said Pam Blondin, executive director of the Triangle race. "And people just continue to come and come, and the race grows every single year."

Grant recipient Michelle Cherry said the money is especially useful in Edgecombe County – which ranks 16th in the nation in breast-cancer mortality.

"We're using the money for patients that are in need of different services ... prosthetics, wigs, help with surgery – almost anything that they could use financial help with," Cherry said. "Without this money, some people wouldn't be able to afford the services.

Gibbs, who has lived 13 years since her diagnosis at age 25, said race day becomes about more than fighting breast cancer, but honoring those who have battled it – and those who helped them in that fight.

"It's basically a sisterhood that you didn't think you were going to be in," Gibbs said. "You have the survivors; you have co-survivors – which can be another survivor, a family member, brother sister, child – to help you celebrate each day you've come after a diagnosis."