Led by more than 16,000 pairs of feet, waves of pink and white coursed through the streets of downtown and North Toledo yesterday morning during the 14th Annual Komen Northwest Ohio Race for the Cure.
The near record number of men, women, and children walked or ran the 3.1-mile race course - starting and finishing at Fifth Third Field - to help raise money and awareness for the continuing battle against breast cancer, which affects nearly 200,000 new people a year in the United States, the majority of whom are women.
Those in the crowd included Brad Krueger, 22, of Oregon, who walked in support of his mother, Diane Krueger, who was diagnosed 18 months ago, and Adam Moore, 16, of Perrysburg, who ran in support of his mother, Elaine Moore, who was diagnosed two years ago.
Cindy Parker, 47, of Delta, Ohio, walked in support of her 9-year-old son, Benjamin, a leukemia survivor.
Dressed head-to-toe in pink in the walking procession with an escort of 20 Whitmer High School football players, parents, coaches, and friends was Candace Meridieth, 49, of West Toledo.
Mrs. Meridieth was diagnosed with breast cancer last spring and covered the course yesterday in a wheelchair pushed by her son, T.J., 16, a junior and linebacker on the team, with help from each of his teammates.
"I'm in a relay," Mrs. Meridieth quipped, as the players took turns propelling her wheelchair up and down the crowded city streets that were closed to vehicle traffic.
She seemed to alternate expressions with almost every half mile of the journey, passing from big smiles of joy to soft tears of stirred emotions.
"I can't say enough about these guys," Mrs. Meridieth said.
The football players, clad in their game jerseys, also wore pink leis around their necks and pink sunglasses. They adorned the backs of their jerseys with pink signs declaring how they were walking in honor of Mrs. Meridieth, or as some wrote in thick black marker, "T.J.'s mom."
"She's their biggest fan," said Whitmer parent Tracy Holt, who accompanied her son, Phoenix, 16, a safety on the team.
"She's always in the stands, whooping and hollering for them. She's always there to greet them when they come out of the locker room with a big hug."
Some players wrote additional names on their signs.
Erik Eckman, 18, who graduated this spring, wore the name of his great aunt, Jean Vess, who he learned last week was diagnosed with breast, spine, and bone cancers.
The walk culminated inside the baseball stadium, where more than 1,000 cancer survivors formed a pink ribbon on the field to applause from the crowd.
Up to 75 percent of the money raised is slated for breast cancer education, screening, and treatment projects in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. The remaining is for the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's national research grant program.
Chris Demko, executive director of the Northwest Ohio Affiliate, said the number of participants in the race has increased nearly every year since 1994.
She attributed that to the growth to cancer being an all-too-common experience.
"Almost everyone knows a friend or family member who has been affected by this disease," Ms. Demko said.
Since receiving her breast cancer diagnosis in May, Mrs. Meridieth said she has had three lymph nodes surgically removed and has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy, with the fifth scheduled for tomorrow.
She hopes to be done with chemotherapy later this fall so she can keep her end of a bargain if the Whitmer football team makes the playoffs.
"Last year, when they made the playoffs, they all got mohawks," Mrs. Meridieth said with a smile. "So I told them that when my hair starts coming back, I'll put it in a mohawk."
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