'Race for the Cure' participants hope for win over cancer

As the sun rose Sunday on the 19th Komen Maryland Race for the Cure, it illuminated a makeshift city nearly the size of Annapolis, all decked out in shades of pink ranging from the palest pastel to the hottest hue.

And for one day, everyone looked fabulous in it.

Cherub-cheeked toddlers. White-haired grandfathers. Rambunctious teenaged girls. Beefy men with hairy legs.

"We are a community. We all have something in common," said all-in-pink Susan Willingham of Baltimore as she bounced up and down trying to stay warm. "We all want to beat breast cancer."

Race organizers estimated 32,000 runners and walkers filled the streets just off Interstate 83 in Hunt Valley. Their numbers were bolstered by hundreds of spectators, who cheered the front of the pack as heartily as they did the later finishers.

"When you're running out of gas and you see survivors and kids wearing 'I love you, Mommy' signs, it gives you a push to keep going," said Jon Golub of Baltimore, in his first-ever race.

Race organizers say they are on track to raise $3 million, about the same as last year.

For the third consecutive year, David Berdan, a science teacher and cross-country coach at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, won the men's division of the 5k race with a time of 15 minutes, 29 seconds. Stephanie Hoag took first in the women's division at 18:35. Kathleen Hammett finished first in the survivor's division at 22:16.

Berdan used his win as a platform to talk about the campaign to find a cure for a disease that killed one of his wife's grandmothers and sickened another.

"Winning a race is nice, but winning over breast cancer is what it's all about," he said.

This year, Komen Maryland has awarded nearly $2.5 million in grants, covering everything from screening programs for low-income women to providing meals for patients in treatment.

Race participants had their faces painted with small pink ribbons or else stuck temporary Komen tattoos on their cheeks. Many people pinned signs to their shirts, dedicating the race to a cancer-stricken loved one. Hugs and high fives were the currency of the day.

Lining up for the pre-dawn Parade of Pink for breast cancer survivors, Reagan Gill's eyes began to well with tears at the sound of Martina McBride's "I'm Gonna Love You Through It." The song has become an anthem for families touched by the disease.

Gill's cancer was detected last year, just three months after the birth of her daughter, Keeley.

"It was surreal. I thought I was the healthiest I had ever been and I was ready to start a whole new life when I was diagnosed," said Gill, 34, a contract specialist for the Navy who lives in Waldorf.

She had a double mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Her doctors recently cleared her to participate in the event. On Sunday she was accompanied by her husband and parents on the one-mile family walk.

"I want tο shοw her hοw healthy Mommy is," said Gill, glancing over at Keeley, whο was bundled against the pre-dawn cοld in a fuzzy pink blanket. "I'm racing today sο hopefully she won't have tο."

Survivor Tammy Hodges, three days removed from surgery, insisted that she would not miss the Maryland race. She and her family drove down from New Jersey on Saturday and joined relatives from Arnold to walk. Nephew Billy Reale perched on her husband's shoulders to place her name near the top of the pink-and-white "Racing For" banner that was covered in signatures.

"Having my family behind me gives me strength," said Hodges after posing for pictures in front of the banner. "They've been with me through thick and thin."


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