No layers, no problem in Cupid's Undie Run event

Baltimoreans brave cold for Cupid's Undie Run

It was an overcast 30 degrees on Saturday afternoon, so the last thing you'd expect see at the Inner Harbor would be hundreds of people running around in their underwear.

But there they were, hordes of spirited joggers and walkers wearing next to nothing while participating in the Cupid's Undie Run, a Valentine's Day weekend fundraiser for the Children's Tumor Foundation. The foundation funds research for neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow in the nervous system.

The event is staged in 38 cities, including three in Australia, according to organizers. Locally, runners gathered at Luckie's Tavern at Power Plant Live for a couple of hours of festivities before their one-mile trek around the Inner Harbor. Scattered but light snow fell intermittently leading up to the event, and the winds howled occasionally.

Yet not much deterred the hundreds of participants, many of whom were strikingly donned in everything from superhero nighties to bathrobes to multi-colored men's boxer shorts.

"We wanted to give people the time of their lives and trade this experience for fundraising," said Brendan Hanrahan, co-founder of the Cupid's Undie Run and the chair of Cupid Charities, the nonprofit organization handling the event.

The University of Maryland College Park graduate and federal government engineer said he launched the event in 2010 after the brother of a friend was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis. He said the races generated a total of $2.8 million in donations last year.

"I come from Liliburn, Ga., and when we found out my friend's brother had this dreaded disease, the whole town came together and started doing fundraisers," said Hanrahan, a Silver Spring resident. "When I moved to Maryland to go to grad school, I decided I needed to start my own fundraiser for this cause.

"As a graduate student, I didn't have a lot of time, and I don't have any rich friends, so it had to be a really creative idea to get people to come out."

On Saturday, participants started at the entrance to Power Plant Live and ventured around to the Harborplace amphitheater, before heading back.

Race director Kate Gibson said her crew inspected the area beforehand to ensure no runners would encounter ice along the ground. With so many nearly bare runners out on the course, she added, "we have 911 on speed dial."

But many runners gathered at Luckie's Tavern beforehand for "liquid courage," Gibson said.

Among the participants were three women from Northern Virginia, including Meg Rowe of Annandale, Va. She said she was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis and is battling Stage 4 sarcoma, a bone and soft-tissue cancer that was caused by the disorder.

It marked the second consecutive year Rowe participated; last year, she said, the team of doctors and nurses that treated her also ran.

"It's amazing to see so many people coming out who care, who have raised money, who have come out in the cold and are running in the cold," said Rowe. "It's really humbling and I'm thankful for everyone that comes out for it."

Rowe said that Saturday's weather was an improvement over last year's, when it snowed. This year, friends Greta Michaelsen of Falls Church, Va., and Kathy Hetrick of Sterling, Va., took part to support her.

The three women were more aptly dressed than many, although Rowe did don a sleeveless outfit. Before the race, Michaelsen said she had not participated in similar events but was confident the movement would keep her warm.

"I don't know if I'll run," she said. "But I will be walking very fast."

Those who took part said the eclectic nature of the event has sparked its popularity — and raised awareness about the disease.

"Living with [neurofibromatosis] is uncomfortable, and it's really uncomfortable to be in your underwear in front of a group of people," said Tamara Forys, board member of Cupid Charities.

"It's extra uncomfortable [taking part in the event] when it's 20 degrees outside," added Forys. "For the 10 minutes we're running our one mile, our lives are much like the lives of those that are living with [neurofibromatosis] for a long time."

jburris@baltsun.com

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