I am not a runner. I never have been. In fact, the last time I was forced to run a mile was freshman year of high school and I ran three of the four laps around the track then sat down in protest, insisting that I was going to be sick. But when you get a chance to run the streets of Baltimore in your underwear and get praised for it instead of getting arrested, you don't pass the opportunity up.
Cupid's Undie Run is 1-1.5 mile run that takes place Valentine's Day weekend and benefits The Children's Tumor Foundation, the world's largest non-government organization committed to ending neurofibromatosis (NF) through research. The run takes place nationwide and in three Australian cities. Participants are encouraged to show up in their "bedroom-best" and each runner is given a fundraising goal of $150 (which, if net, grants you free VIP bar access the day of the run). In 2013, the organization raised over $1.3 million for The Children's Tumor Foundation and they set their goal at $3 million for 2014, adding Baltimore to their list of cities for the first time.
When I arrived at Luckie's Tavern in Powerplant Live! with my team to sign in (that's me in the middle of the picture above; see full gallery here), it felt like the registration process was moving pretty slowly. Not to mention, the line took place outside and it happened to be snowing. While I was getting slightly impatient and eager to get inside and take advantage of the VIP bar access, I was so entertained seeing the wild and creative costumes people were arriving in, including angel wings, tutus, bodysuits, animal hats and masks, and my personal favorite (and everyone else's) - a man dressed as Ricky Bobby, wearing tighty-whities and a Wonder bread race helmet. A woman on his team added to the fun by flaunting a Ricky Bobby Pit Crew white jacket.
Ricky Bobby and his crew chief got to shake and bake in the costume contest that took place on stage inside the bar before the run. He won, and she joined me in the top four females. Ultimately, a woman dressed as Michael Jackson took the cake with tons of crowd support and applause. (For the many ladies who asked me where I got my gemstone, neon, light up bra - Go to http://www.neonnancy.com. It could be a great asset to those of you registering for the Electric Run in Baltimore on July 19).
Surprisingly, I didn't see any banners or cones in the Inner Harbor indicating that a run was happening. When the run began at 2:15 p.m., we were greeted by multiple volunteers and supporters holding signs telling us which direction to go in and cheering us on. My favorite supporters were two men holding signs that said "Go random stranger, Go!" and "Keep Going! Keep Going! (that's what she said)."
Once I started fundraising, my reasons for participating drastically changed. I casually posted a status on my Facebook in hopes of getting donations. I really wasn't expecting anything. At best, I was hoping to raise enough money for the free VIP bar access. At worst, I was hoping to meet the $50 incentive level, which earned you a pair of festive underwear. Within 10 minutes of posting, a family friend who is stationed overseas donated $100. I was blown away. Then more donations started rolling in.
NF is a genetic disorder, mainly diagnosed in children, that causes tumors to grow in various places along the nervous system. As the tumors grow in size, those living with NF can suffer from learning disabilities, blindness, deafness, high blood pressure, discolored patches on the skin and extreme pain. As I learned more about the disorder, I felt compelled to fundraise beyond my initial goal. I turned to Facebook and Instagram time and time again and begged my friends and family to support my run. It was suddenly no longer about reaching the incentive levels for prizes; I actually cared about raising money for the charity. And hey, running in my underwear through the Inner Harbor is a pretty cool bonus. As silly as it sounds, I had no idea that raising money for charity would feel so damn good. But it does.
After I met the $150 goal, I changed the goal on my donation page to $250. Once that was met, people kept donating. Come the day of the run, I had raised $508, 100 percent of those donations going directly to The Children's Tumor Foundation. For raising $500, I earned a red, plush and comfy as hell "I'm With Cupid" robe, an incentive prize I hadn't even considered as a possibility when I signed up. I was truly astonished by the support and generosity of my friends and family.
My team, Badass, raised $1,450 for the cause, landing us in the top 10 fundraising teams for Baltimore out of 85 registered teams. No one could beat the Hopkins Hotties though, who raised $14,945. In its first year, the Baltimore Cupid's Undie Run (official hashtag for social media #CupidHon) sold out at 500 runners, about 400 of whom showed up the day of the race. While the organization didn't quite meet its goal of $3 million, they surpassed the $1.3 million they raised last year, raising over $2.6 million at the end of this year's run.
Kate Gibson, who answered multiple runners' questions through Facebook leading up to the run, landed her role as the Baltimore Cupid's Undie Run race director after participating in last year's run in Washington, D.C., when the organization asked runners what other cities they thought should get involved. "I thought it was a perfect fit for the personality of Baltimore. I offered to volunteer," Gibson said. "Next thing I know, I'm on the phone with someone from the national office describing my event planning experience (which is a lot) and BOOM, I was named director."
Gibson initially got involved with the Cupid's Undie Run because she was recovering from a broken ankle in August of 2012 and was interested in slowly getting back into running. Before joining the team, she admits she had no connection to NF and knew very little about it. "Now I'm a part of one of the largest NF families in the world," Gibson said. "It's a terrible disease and it's not talked about enough. And it mostly affects kids. So why the hell wouldn't I want to be involved?" Gibson is incredibly happy with the success of the Baltimore Cupid's Undie Run. "We are already exploring the idea of growing significantly next year," Gibson said. "I see this becoming a very hot annual event in the years to come." See the full Cupid's Undie Run gallery here.