Guns were firing rapidly this past weekend at the Loch Raven Skeet and Trap Center. Shooters took aim at a small flying disc of clay known as skeet, but the real target was breast cancer.
For some, it might seem unusual that a group of largely male riflemen were raising funds for the Maryland affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure by pursuing their interest in target shooting. It's also a bit uncommon for a nonprofit organization to raise funds for another nonprofit.
But the Shoot for the Cure event, held Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1-2, made perfect sense to both the men and women who participated in an event at the start ofBreast Cancer Awareness Month.
And participants noted that while most breast cancer patients are female, the disease has a profound effect on all family members who help to care for their loved ones.
"Breast cancer is such a pervasive and indiscriminate disease," said Jason Wennet, who organized the event for the Skeet and Trap Center. "It affects families and entire communities. This is the first time we've done a shooting fundraiser, and the response has been amazing."
The event attracted 170 shooters — double the number organizers had expected. The center's goal was to raise at least $500 for the cause, but the proceeds far exceeded that mark. According to Wennet, the event had raised more than $5,600 as of its Sunday conclusion.
"That figure is just money in the bank right now," said Wennet, who wore a pink T-shirt proclaiming the message, "I am a Weapon Against Breast Cancer."
He said a final tally wouldn't be calculated until later this week.
"We still haven't finished counting; the total raised should go much higher," he said.
Proceeds will benefit the Komen organization, the world's largest and most progressive network in the fight against breast cancer. Up to 75 percent of the funds will stay in Maryland, with the remainder going to Komen's national effort in breast cancer research.
"We have a built-in support network with our regular members, and we wanted to get non-shooters involved," said Wennet, a Catonsville resident who has been a member of the center for two years.
He said he got involved with the cause not based on any one person — though he acknowledged that he has, "relatives that were touched by it and survived." He said he simply still saw the cause as a good outlet for the club to aid others.
"We wanted everyone to picture the clays as these demonic cells," he said, "and we're bringing our guns to the fight."
The large turnout pleased Randy Ringgold, who serves as president of the center's Board of Directors.
"This is the first big-scale fundraiser that we've done," Ringgold said. "We really didn't have any idea how this was going to snowball. It is unique, in that something like this has never been done before. This isn't a competition, but the idea is to get pledges for every broken target."
The event provided another source of support for Liz Gillespie. A resident of Sterling, Va., Gillespie was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2010. Following the discovery of two breast tumors, she learned that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. She had to undergo a full mastectomy.
"It was devastating to hear the news, a complete shock," said Gillespie, whose son, Brian, and daughter, Micki Hopson, were participants in Shoot for the Cure.
"It's life-changing," she said of her cancer diagnosis. "I tried to find positives out of the experience, but it really drains you. Losing my hair was the hardest. I wasn't prepared for how hard that would be."
Just last week, Gillespie got a clean bill of health from her oncologist and is ready to celebrate her first anniversary as a breast cancer survivor.
"I was blessed with great cancer doctors at Bethesda Naval Hospital, and they worked as a team with the radiologists, social workers, and physical therapists," Gillespie said. "People who had gone through breast cancer started coming out of the woodwork, and that was a big help to me. And I was able to use my family and friends as my support group."
When Gillespie's son-in-law told her about the fundraiser, she knew she had to come, even though she didn't participate as a shooter.
"I think it's a wonderful idea, and I would definitely come back every year," said Gillespie, who lost a sister to cervical cancer in 1978. "Cancer is such an indiscriminate disease that hits everybody, and we've got to find a way to stop it."
Since the first Shoot for the Cure was an unqualified success, members of the Loch Raven center are planning to make it an annual event.
"This is a starting point for us," said Wennet, who raised about $1,200 on his own.
"Unfortunately, we have a limited capacity," he said. "It's not like the (Komen Race for the Cure), where they shut down the streets for 30,000-plus people. We can get in about 100 to 125 people a day, depending on skill level."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun