Thousands gather for Cure

15th annual Susan G. Komen race

October 15, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN REPORTER

Years ago, when Abby Ferretti began running in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, she would just show up, run and go home.

Then her grandmother's breast cancer returned with a vengeance.

"We wanted to rev things up," said Ferretti, 24, of Annapolis.

The effort that began simply with spray-painted pink running shoes reached a new level yesterday at the 15th annual Komen race in Hunt Valley. There, Ferretti and 66 friends and family members decked themselves out in pink paint, pink ribbons, pink shorts and black-and-pink T-shirts depicting a cartoon drawing of Clara "Big MomMom" Ferretti, who died three years ago.

"It's a ritual now -- like war paint -- to psych everyone up and get everyone going," said Ferretti, who earns a living as a graphics designer for Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Nearly 33,000 people -- most not quite as well outfitted as the Ferretti clan -- descended on Hunt Valley near dawn yesterday for the annual 5K run and walk.

Traffic on Interstate 83 backed up several miles as so many motorists attempted to exit at Shawan Road at the same time. Desperate to get to the race by the 8 a.m. start time, runners left their cars on the shoulders of highway exit ramps, on median strips and on the grassy edges of roads, where parking is prohibited.

"I'm running three miles on my way to run three miles," one woman quipped while jogging to the starting line.

Participants showed off every shade of pink imaginable. Some wore feathered boas or glittery sequined hats. Many runners and walkers got creative -- and more than a little silly -- with T-shirt slogans and team names.

Seven-month-old Aodhan Karl sported a pink cap that proclaimed, "I'm a boob man" and a bib that read, "Real men wear pink." Others wore shirts decorated with bras and cleavage.

But despite all the festivities, the serious underlying reason for the race was hard to miss. Nearly everyone participating in the event wore signs on their back, honoring the memory of friends and relatives who died of breast cancer or celebrating those who survived the disease. Many people's lists included four, five or six names.

"It's absolutely amazing to see this many people together and no conflicts," said Donitra Terry, 28, of Baltimore who wiped away tears as she watched the runners go by. "It's just beautiful. It's peaceful."

Ryan Geiger, 30, of Baltimore joined several community theater castmates on a team called "The Drama Queens." They walked in honor of an actress in their group, the Heritage Players, who recently battled breast cancer a second time.

"During parts of the race, you can look in both directions and just see people. It's a sea of humanity," Geiger said. "It's absolutely amazing."

Annie Smith, 63, of Randallstown was one of thousands of women wearing pink shirts that identified breast cancer survivors. She was diagnosed in 1983 and underwent a double mastectomy. "As I was told, I walked into the doctor's office just in the nick of time," she said of the seriousness of her illness.

Smith, a nurse at an assisted-living facility, said she hopes the race and events like it nationwide will raise awareness of the disease and the pursuit of a cure.

"People need to be in tune with their bodies and do their homework. They need to change their diet and exercise," she said. "A lot of us change after it happens. But I think we can do it before."

The Maryland race has continued to attract more people each year. This year's group of nearly 33,000 participants topped by far last year's attendance of 26,500, said Robin Prothro, executive director of the Maryland affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

The Maryland nonprofit group has donated $20 million in 15 years to breast health services in the state, she said.

To Abby Ferretti, raising money for breast cancer treatment and research is only a fraction of the reason she has devoted so much time and energy to the Komen race in recent years.

The day offers a chance for the entire family to remember Big MomMom -- a woman so talkative that she could turn a telephone call to a wrong number into a 40-minute conversation, her family said. Clara Ferretti grew up on Lombard Street in Little Italy, raised three children, cooked in the kitchen of the family's bar in the 1950s and then worked in a tailor shop for about two decades.

For this year's race, Abby Ferretti made T-shirts and a banner with her cartoon graphic of her grandmother and the slogan, "The race ain't over til' the fat lady sings." The family made goodie bags for each team member with cookies, pink pins, Big MomMom M&Ms and a "soundtrack" CD of motivational and upbeat songs. They even spray-painted one couple's chocolate lab pink for the day and gave her a sequined sweater that read, "Bark for the Cure."

"It's really easy for people to say, `Let me give you a check,'" Ferretti said. "But to say, `Come out on your Sunday morning at 5 a.m., sit in traffic, get over here and let us spray paint your hair pink,' I think that takes a lot more.

"But if you can get people to do that, they remember it, and they remember the cause is important and they see all these survivors and they know that they can't really ignore it. That's why this race is so great."

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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