Cancer fight takes to the streets

Champion cyclist Lance Armstrong gives a boost to local group's fundraising effort

October 28, 2007|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,Sun reporter

Not even steady rain and 700 miles could come between Brian Silver and a chance to race Lance Armstrong.

Silver, along with seven of his family members, traveled from Chicago to Columbia to join in a 5-kilometer race yesterday to support the organization that helped his family through his brother's fight with cancer.

Continuous early-morning showers didn't stop hundreds of runners, bikers, cancer survivors -- and Armstrong -- from supporting the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults race, part of a weekend-long event that brought in more than $500,000 for the organization.

The race, which began and ended at Merriweather Post Pavilion, was part of "10 The Event," the Ulman fund's 10th- anniversary celebration. Doug Ulman, a cancer survivor who was diagnosed at age 19 and brother of Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, started the fund in 1997 after seeing how little awareness existed about young adults with cancer.

"I never thought the community would be so supportive and so engaged," Doug Ulman said. "We never thought it would turn into an organization that's done so much and lasted this long."

Ulman said about 70,000 young adults ages 15 to 30 are diagnosed with cancer each year.

Silver's sister, Elizabeth, said even though the Ulman fund is a local organization, it's "definitely spreading across the country."

She said the Silver family held a benefit in Chicago this year in honor of her brother, Sean, that brought in $60,000 -- all of which the family donated to the Ulman fund. Sean Silver was 32 when he died this year of a rare form of cancer.

Although wet leaves and pools of water discouraged some of the more than 1,000 registered runners and bikers from participating, many came from around the country to support the fundraiser -- as well as sneak a peek at Armstrong, the world-famous cyclist and Tour de France champion, who ran the 5K race.

"We're celebrating a decade of helping young adults fight cancer -- rain or shine," said Ulman fund Executive Director Brock Yetso. "The weather is not going to dampen our spirits."

This was the first time Armstrong, himself a cancer survivor, has come to the area for one of the fund's event, although he has donated money and offered other support.

"He's become such a good friend," Ulman said.

Armstrong, who plans to run the New York City Marathon next month, offered words of encouragement before the race.

"It's a great honor to be here for the Ulman fund," Armstrong said. Cancer "is still the No. 1 killer in this country and is certainly devastating to young adults."

The fund also hosted a formal dinner Friday, where Armstrong was one of the 10 people honored. The dinner garnered so much interest that the fund changed venues from a ballroom in Columbia to an empty warehouse in Jessup, allowing 900 people to attend.

The fundraising goal for the weekend was $300,000.

Although Yetso said the fund would not support yesterday's bicycle race because slippery conditions made the bike route dangerous, many cyclists rode anyway, including Atholton High School junior Carl Eichert.

Eichert, 17, said he got his bike for Christmas. Yesterday's was his first race.

"I was anxious to do it," Eichert said. "This is for youth cancer."

Justin Fritzius and Chris Sheaffer, who are roommates in Purcellville, Va., both participated in the foot race. Fritzius, 23, who was the first person to finish the race, said that although it felt good to come in ahead of a world-class athlete like Armstrong, he was just glad to support a good cause.

Sheaffer, 23, who came in just before Armstrong, agreed. "It's definitely an important cause," he said.

During the race, the entire Silver family wore matching T-shirts that read "Sean's Crew" on their backs.

"It's about getting out, spreading the word," Brian Silver said.

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

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