by ANDREW HORN
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Sports have played a major role in raising awareness for this horrible disease. The NFL started a Crucial Catch campaign in 2014, creating a partnership with the American Cancer Society to provide education and screenings to under-served communities. College football teams like the Oregon Ducks also created jerseys to wear for a nationally televised game. Everyone wins when we unite and support a cause.
As for me, I race through the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I joined my mother, two of my aunts and my younger sister at the race this year. This was the sixth consecutive year that I have attended the event in Hunt Valley, MD. Every year, I get the question that every participant, runner or walker, supporter or survivor, man or woman is asked: Who do you race for?
The simple answer to that question is I race in memory of my maternal grandmother Linda B. Lipp. I will dive into why I run, but after we take a journey; a 3.1-mile journey to be exact.
Before the Race:
Before the race actually starts, there are tents, full of free merchandise from the sponsors. Before the tents are occupied, the parking lot where the pre-event festivities take place is closer to an old western ghost town. Walking around an abandoned parking lot at 11:30 p.m. is fine if nobody is around. Too bad the security guards had a slightly different idea of what is OK.
Walking around the parking lot in the morning, collecting gear is always an adventure with my family. One person is constantly scoping out which tent has the shortest line and the best gear. Ford is always one of the first tents we go to, grabbing a scarf, uniquely designed from year to year. After Ford, the adventure of going from tent to tent begins. People and animals alike wear creative pink costumes. While the four legged supporters always win the cute category, Medieval Times won as my favorite for creativity.
Start to Mile 1:
Take that first step. It will be the first of thousands in order to complete the 3.1 miles. Walking under the start banner, listening to the crowd celebrate as the local news shoots video of the thousands of people crossing the start line. The five of us walk together, waving to the ABC2 camera as we go by. I always stop on my way up the first hill and take two pictures. One looking forward, showing how many people are already ahead of us; the other looking behind toward the starting line, showing how many people are still funneling through onto the course.
Not even a quarter mile in, and a race volunteer asks the five of us for a picture. So we stop, turn around and line up to have a picture of our backs taken. Why the backs? That is where you put signs of who you run for, whether it is in honor, or in memorial. There was no reason for the five of us to smile; but that didn’t stop any of us from smiling like picture was of our faces.
After the picture, we continued to walk the course, pointing out the costumes that people created or finding the highest number. The higher the number, the more people that signed up for the race. It is a game to find a white race bib with the highest number; it is another thing to see a pink race bib.
Pink shows strength and courage through an unimaginable hardship. Pink bibs mean one thing: Survivor.
That is when I saw Michelle Watkins, an office manager for Summit Title Co. and breast cancer survivor. On December 1, 2008, Watkins was diagnosed with aggressive Stage 2 breast cancer. Watkins was put onto an aggressive treatment plan to combat her cancer, starting with chemotherapy. She then underwent a lumpectomy, radiation and then was prescribed the drug Herceptin.
Herceptin is used for patients who are HER2 positive, according to MayoClinic.com. The Mayo Clinic also says the HER2 protein promotes cancerous cell development and is more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. After nearly 18 months of treatment ended in 2010, Watkins’ treatment has been successful and she has not had a recurrence.
Watkins said she attended the race for “all the other survivors to give empowerment and inspiration and to let everybody know that you can get through this.” Watkins knows better than anybody what it takes to conquer cancer.
Mile 1.1 to Mile 2
Shortly after I part ways with Michelle Watkins, I run into a large group of women dancing in the road. Generally this is frowned upon, but when the police have blocked off the road, there tends to be more freedom. Best of all, the group was doing the Wobble.
After I wobbled my way back up to my group, we continued to walk, taking in the row of supporters and the smells of the McCormick spice factory, which is located along the route of the racecourse. The savory air was heavenly at first, then overpowering to the nose. The smell will change depending on where you are on the course. Some places smell like dinner, some smell like pumpkin pie.
Mile 2 to Finish Line
The remaining section of the racecourse is brutal if you have bad knees. My knees are still intact, but it can definitely take a toll on any runner. There is another dancing act on the side of the road; however this is much more professionally done than the Wobble. A young man was even pulled from the course and led to the side to join in the dancing. He picked up quickly, but we continued to press on.
Mile three comes near the Electronic Arts building, just a curve away from the finish line. Walkers still feel great by this point, runners start feeling the wobble in the legs. The final tenth of a mile is more of a nuisance than anything, but it is all that stood between us and the finish line. The five of us cross, finishing the race. The only thing left to do was go eat breakfast.
Although our race day was over, the race for the cure is ongoing. According to the Komen Foundation, there will be over 300,000 new cases of breast cancer in men (because men can get it too) and women. They estimate that more than 40,000 people will die. 40,000 mothers, wives, grandmothers, husbands, brothers etc. will die. Countless more will experience what our family experienced 27 years ago.
That is why I race. I never had the privilege of knowing my grandmother. From what my parents and my aunts have told me, she was a hell of a woman, and we were cheated of her. Nobody made pumpkin pie better than her. My grandmother died in 1987 at the age of 48. All four of her kids have all lived longer than she could. It is a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by her children either.
All four of the Lipp girls (and I will be referring to them by their maiden names in order to help prevent confusion) admitted to having at least some thought as they approached their 48th birthday, and then as the exact day came where they had lived longer than their mother. I wasn’t born until 1993. I missed her by six years. I never had a chance to make a memory with my grandmother, and I will do everything in my power to make sure that every child gets the chance that I never had.
In memory of Linda B. Lipp