Nearly 3,600 participate in first Komen race in Ocean City
Participation above expectations for local event as other affiliates struggle with drop in donations after Planned Parenthood controversy
Participants take off from the the starting line at the Ocean City inlet during the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. (Amanda Rippen White photo, Special to The Baltimore Sun / April 22, 2012)
Breast cancer survivors, their families and supporters showed up on Ocean City's boardwalk just after sunrise, ready to race in rain and cool temperatures. Pink was the color of the day, on everything from sneakers to bandannas and wigs.
Planned Parenthood wasn't on most attendees' minds two months after Komen officials pulled funding from the national organization, then changed their minds after a public outcry. Race organizers never mentioned the incident during the festivities, which raised more than $254,000.
Breast cancer survivor Susan Singh of Berlin said educating women about breast cancer was too important not to support Komen.
She had no symptoms when she was diagnosed with the disease in 2009 and said a mammogram helped save her life. After nine surgeries, she is a survivor.
Singh, who raised $800 for the race, said some people wouldn't give because of the Planned Parenthood flap.
"I think it is a shame," she said. "I think it is important to educate women about screening because it saves lives."
Some affiliates of the cancer-fighting organization — including those in central Indiana, southwest Florida and southwestern Arizona — have experienced declines in fundraising and participation because of the Planned Parenthood incident. But in Ocean City, the number of registrants was higher than the 3,000 that race organizers had anticipated, leaving the group hopeful about future fundraising.
But the Ocean City race is much smaller than typical "Race for the Cure" events, which are usually local affiliates' largest fundraisers. Registration and fundraising for the annual October race in Hunt Valley have not begun. That race attracted around 32,000 people last year.
"We are thrilled with the support that we've seen," Brittany Fowler, communications and development coordinator for Komen Maryland, said of the Ocean City race. "The fact that we've exceeded our goal is great."
Many local affiliates are still reeling from the January decision by Komen's national headquarters to pull funding from Planned Parenthood, which offers abortions among its services.
Criticized for letting politics infiltrate the organization, Komen reversed course days later.
The woman at the center of the controversy, Maryland native Karen Walker Handel, resigned a short time later. The former Republican secretary of state in Georgia had called for Planned Parenthood to be defunded while seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2010 and was said to have pushed for the funding ban at Komen as well.
A spokeswoman for Komen National said the Planned Parenthood incident has had varying degrees of impact on local affiliates. While attendance and fundraising is down in some cities, others have exceeded their expectations, spokeswoman Andrea Rader said.
"We know that some people may be upset with us but hope they know that we've been serving women for 30 years and this help is still very much needed, especially for low-income, uninsured and underinsured women," Rader said.
Komen participants Sunday stuck by their cause.
Sharon Sweet, 61, of Hampstead, was walking her first Komen race Sunday to support a friend who is a 10-year survivor.
"No matter who you are, you know someone who has been affected by cancer," she said. "That is why we need Komen."
Edla Coleman, with the group Survivors Offering Support, said organizations like hers also depend on Komen funds. The group, which trains survivors to mentor newly diagnosed women, started as a volunteer group and now works with 12 hospitals around the state with help from Komen.