Leading the Race

Maryland's Race for the Cure is one of the nation's top fund-raisers for breast-cancer research because Julie St. Marie never stops.

September 06, 2001|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

LAST weekend, while hundreds of exuberant spectators cheered the Bowie Baysox to victory, Julie St. Marie seized the holiday moment to enlist fans in the fight against breast cancer.

Positioning a 20-foot inflatable pink breast cancer ribbon against the outside of Prince George's Stadium in Bowie, St. Marie set up two booths to promote the Komen Maryland Race for the Cure, one of the international series of 5-K run/walks to raise money to eradicate breast cancer.

Held in Baltimore on Oct. 6, the annual race will bring together roughly 30,000 runners and walkers in a spectacle that has always been more about hope than speed. For several hours, the streets around PSINet Stadium and Camden Yards will swell with waves of breast cancer survivors, family members, friends and others affected by the disease, creating an extraordinary scene of commitment and support.

Organizing such a phenomenon is almost as remarkable. St. Marie heads a committee of roughly 50 members as well as scores of other volunteers recruited by race veterans. For the past seven years, the 38-year-old Canton woman has volunteered holidays and weekends lining up annual sponsors, organizing meetings, welding community partnerships and cheerleading, cheerleading, cheerleading.

And how the race has grown: from roughly 4,000 participants in 1993 to 24,900 in 2000. Last year's race raised $1.4 million, three-quarters of which supported local breast health and education programs. The remaining amount went to the national Susan G. Komen Foundation's research grant program.

All of last year's races raised about $82 million, making the Komen Foundation one of the nation's largest donors to breast cancer research. But there is no magic formula, says St. Marie, who is race chair. The secret is working weekends at race registration booths, stuffing bags of race souvenirs and giveaways and persuading your friends to help out. It's continuously thinking about how to make the fight against breast cancer even more visible.

"The week before the race, we want to have everything downtown pink," she says. "We're hoping to get the mayor's support: If he can do purple lights for the Ravens, he can do pink lights for breast cancer."

Owner of an Allstate Insurance agency in Bowie, St. Marie carries the race everywhere in the trunk of her Ford Taurus. Now that it has grown so massive - Maryland's race is the 14th largest in the country - she works on the event year-round, devoting about 20 hours a week to race-related projects.

"I like raising money," St. Marie confesses. "I like getting brand-new people on board and getting them involved. I like the connections, new partnerships. I like having been in on something since the beginning."

Expanding

This year, after officials decided the race had outgrown its Inner Harbor beginnings, she worked with the Ravens to help coordinate the move to PSINet Stadium. And she considers the new Baysox partnership, and the launch into Bowie, to be proof of the race's ever-widening campaign.

"All these people came up and said `Oh we're so glad you're here' " because the race has never been in this part of the state before.

Her volunteers were thrilled as well. Bowie resident Sherrye Wray and her 11-year-old daughter, Morgan, spent last weekend working together for the first time on this project. It was a way to honor their cousin, a one-year breast cancer survivor, as well as raise funds for others struggling with the disease.

The Race for the Cure is rooted in sisterhood. Breast cancer survivor Nancy Brinker established the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in 1982 in memory of her older sister, a homemaker who died from the disease when she was 36. The national organization is based in Dallas, the site of the first race; many states, like Maryland, have affiliates to help collect and distribute money raised by local events.

Since 1983, the Race for the Cure series has spread to 112 sites in the United States (there are also races in Rome, Athens and Frankfurt) and has become the world's largest series of 5-K runs, according to the U.S. Track and Field Association. More than 1.3 million people are expected to participate in races this year.

$431 million raised

Over the years, the race has helped the Komen Foundation raise roughly $431 million for breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment.

The event owes some of its success, observers say, to the fact that it has become a tradition shared by families and friends. A chance for women to emphasize the importance of mammography and early cancer detection, it allows men to publicly support the health of their wives, mothers and daughters. Non-profit professionals say it also speaks to the growing appeal of activity-based fund-raising.

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