Pink-clad participants wait for the Komen Northwest Ohio Race for the Cure to start in downtown Toledo. Thousands ran or walked on Sunday, some carrying signs dedicated to the struggle of loved ones with cancer. The Toledo-area race draws more than 19,000 participants and raises more than $1,000,000 annually.
The hugs, the tears, the pink-infused solidarity: The Komen Northwest Ohio Race for the Cure lived up to its reputation of being anything but a typical road race on Sunday.
That spirit of togetherness was felt in young and old, starting with first graders in Sylvania St. Joseph Parish Girl Scout Troop 10419.
PHOTO GALLERY: Komen Northwest Ohio Race for the Cure
“They’re here to celebrate strong women,” Tricia Seddon, 38, said as she led her daughter, Brooke Seddon, 6, and other members of the Sylvania Girl Scout troop on the 1-mile family walk.
Brooke’s grandmother, Judy Erhardt, is a breast cancer survivor.
The young, impressionable girls have been touched by her story and that of others who’ve fought the disease. “This is the first time we’ve had a survivor so near to us,” Ms. Seddon said.
But for many of the thousands of participants, the race was a reminder of the inspiration that comes from grandmothers, spouses, and other loved ones in heaven.
Delisa Jordan, 46, of Toledo's Old West End, broke down in tears and pointed to the sky after completing her first 5K of any kind.
She said she was able to complete the 3.1-mile run because she has lost 62 pounds since February, something she wanted to do to stave off diabetes and high blood pressure.
But she also felt her grandmother, Mary Love-Pittman, who died of breast cancer in 2002, was guiding her along on what Ms. Jordan described as an “emotional and spiritual” journey on Sunday.
Diana Hughes, left, and David Wiggins embrace Delisa Jordan, 46, after the race. Ms. Jordan ran for her grandmother and Ms. Hughes' mother, Mary Love-Pittman, who died in 2002 of breast cancer.
“I just felt like she was looking down and cheering me on,” Ms. Jordan, a nurse, said. “I just knew I needed to do this for my grandmother.”
The event also reminded Ms. Jordan of one of the most enduring images of her grandmother, the moment her grandmother was close to death and tugged on Ms. Jordan’s sweater as a signal that she wanted a final hug from her.
“That hug, that moment was ‘Thank-you, that I love you beyond this Earth,” Ms. Jordan said. “I just had to do something to give back. She was just love.”
The race also reminded Ms. Jordan of a triumph within the family, a cousin and neighbor, Katie Tolbert, who is a 20-year survivor of breast cancer.
Ms. Jordan was cheered on and joined at the finish line by her mother, Diana Hughes, who lost her husband, Lawrence Hughes, to bladder cancer in 2007.
The family has encountered several other bouts with cancer, including a battle with prostate cancer waged by Ms. Jordan’s boyfriend, David Wiggins, whose sister, Dorothy Jean Wiggins, of Gary, Ind., died of breast cancer in 1983.
Ms. Hughes said the family’s experiences inspired her to publish a book of poems in 2009 called Good Morning, Sunshine. The title is based on the standard greeting she shared with her late mother.
“When you see all of these survivors, that gives you hope. Everybody was pulling for everybody,” Ms Hughes said of the race.
Ashley Pegish, 25, who lives in a downtown apartment building, marched with a sign honoring her grandmother, Patricia Pegish, who died of breast cancer in 2005.
Ms. Pegish said her grandmother left behind 10 children and more than 30 grandchildren.
“She was my best friend in the world,” Ms. Pegish, accompanied by her daughter, Anaya, 5, said. “Even when she was dying, she was trying to protect me.”
Bonnie Owens, 65, of South Toledo said Sunday’s event was her second with Komen since she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.
“It’s overwhelming. Last year, I cried the whole way,” Ms. Owens said.
She said she has received emotional support from two of her close friends from Cornerstone Church in Maumee, Dawn and Amanda Vaculik, who accompanied her.
“You can get so discouraged, but they encourage me,” Ms. Owens said.
One of the largest contingents among small businesses were those affiliated with Extreme Results, a West Toledo workout facility.
Owner Vince Ceniceros, his left ear adorned with a pink feather earring, was proud that several nonmembers had marched with his group.
The event’s collective support shows “there are people who have your back,” the facility’s manager, Lindsay Bowman, said.
Cathie Patterson, a nine-year cancer survivor of Toledo, carries her dog Coco during the walk in Sunday's Komen Race for the Cure downtown.
Extreme Results has rallied around one of its regular attendees, Elizabeth Cox, a 32-year-old Sylvania Township woman who said she recently had a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer on July 1.
Ms. Cox, a supervisor at Brooks Insurance Agency, said she’d participated in past Komen events because she empathized with others.
“This year, it obviously hit close to home,” Ms. Cox said.
She said she was able to do the 5K walk — the first strenuous exercise doctors allowed her to do in weeks — and was accompanied by 50 to 60 friends and family members who had her name on their shirts.
“It’s really emotional. It just makes me feel like the community is pulling for me,” Ms. Cox, who starts her chemotherapy treatments next week, said.
Ms. Cox and her husband, Archie, have a daughter, Callie, 3. They were among those cheering her on.
“That’s honestly what keeps you strong,” she said.
Alicia Pangrac, 39, a West Toledo-based consultant, also has been affiliated with Extreme Results. She was 28 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago.
She said she has attended Race for the Cure events since then, including Sunday’s with her husband, John.
Ms. Pangrac said she is “motivated and inspired” to watch the courage of others, something she’s done in various outreach and volunteer capacities during remission.
“It’s really an exciting thing to see there is support for them and they’re not alone,” she said. “It really does make me thankful that I made it through.”
Contact Tom Henry at: email@example.com or 419-724-6079.