By: Kelly Thurman
The Avera Race Against Breast Cancer was the first race I ever ran.
As soon as I arrived, a ball of nervous energy, it was hard not to get excited. So many people in one spot running for so many things – personal records, as survivors, or in remembrance of love ones.
I flew down the Southeastern Avenue hill faster than I’d ever run before, then slogged up it on the way back wondering why I’d started so fast. It was the first time I felt like a true runner and my first introduction to the running community in Sioux Falls.
We all run for different reasons. Me? I’m not winning any awards for speed. I run to stay healthy as I head into middle age. I run races because I still love the exhilaration of that first mile, even though it always gets me in trouble.
The Avera Race brings so many people together because we can all relate. You may not run but you know someone diagnosed with cancer. Most know several. My father battled bladder cancer for years. It was a persistent itch that just wouldn’t go away. Always treatable and slow growing but never truly gone.
My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer twice. She also survived bladder cancer but eventually was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and passed away soon after. She skipped a colonoscopy because she was worn out following bladder cancer treatments. By the time she had symptoms the tumor was too large and too close to her spinal cord to be removed. If you ever think of skipping your colonoscopy, my advice is don’t.
I remember as a child going over to her house after her mastectomy to help take care of her as she recovered. I was annoyed that she needed so much help, too young to realize what an ordeal she was going through and how scared she must have been. Years later she had another mastectomy when the cancer came back.
She never had breast reconstruction. Financially it probably wasn’t feasible. For the rest of her life she wore special padding in her bra. She kept those pads in a box she affectionately called her “boob” box. I never really heard her talk about her cancer, and I never asked what it was like to lose such a large part of herself. She just did what she had to do and moved on with her life.
That’s one reason the Avera Race was created 30 years ago. A group of women started the race in support of Judy Davis who had recently been diagnosed. They wanted to raise awareness about a disease that women didn’t want to discuss.
Thirty years later, Davis says the annual race is her special day. “I love that day. It is thrilling for me to stand on the stage with Jackie (Haggar-Tuschen) and look out and see what we have accomplished. Family and friends come out to celebrate the survivors and honor those who have gone before us,” she said.
Things have changed over the years. Survivorship is much higher and women have more options when it comes to surgery, breast reconstruction and treatment. That’s in thanks large part to important research that’s being done across the world and right here in Sioux Falls.
The Avera Race is not only fun for runners, it helps fund programs for people right here in the Sioux Falls area. What does a donation do? It ensures every woman diagnosed with cancer gets a free wig. It funds breast cancer research. It provides support services to help with the side effects of treatment.
Most of all, it brings us together for a common cause. Just like we all run for different reasons, we all run for different people. My father keeps me going when the steps get harder — a reminder that sometimes I just need to keep going because I can.
When you fly down that hill at the start of the Avera Race, who will you be running for?
The 30th Avera Race Against Breast Cancer is May 12. There are 10K and 5K chip timed races and 3 mile and 1.5 mile walk options.
Register at AveraRaceSiouxFalls.org. Use code 605RUN for a special 605 Running discount.
It’s almost marathon Monday.
Nearly 40 South Dakotans are registered to run the 122nd Boston Marathon on Monday, April 16. (Here’s the list.)
This year marks the fifth anniversary of the bombings at the finish line, and I’m sure as runners huddle in the athletes’ village at the starting line in Hopkinton, it will at least be on some of their minds.
But I hope it’s not all they think about.
It’s an amazing race in a beautiful city, and everyone who stands at that starting line worked hard to get there. For some of them, it will be their first Boston. And maybe, like me, that’s all they’ll ever do.
It doesn’t matter. It still puts you in fine company, and the race is maybe the only time any of us normal everyday runners feels like we’re part of an elite camp. Aside from the Olympic Trials, it’s one of the only races you have to qualify for. For me, I worked hard to make it, and I know what it feels like for those folks out there.
It’s an interesting week, and I was thinking about it this past Saturday, when I used the Chilly Cheeks 10-miler as a training run. I ran with my friend Kristina, and we chatted most of the way. I fell back a bit with a few miles to go, just feeling lazy, and she held up until I caught her again. It was an act of kindness she didn’t need to do, but like me, she was just out enjoying the day.
I don’t train to race anymore, and I tell myself it’s because I’m lazy. Maybe I just don’t think I’ll ever run what I used to, and it’s easier to say that than to actually put in the work and know for sure. I’ll leave that answer to my therapist, or to a long run in the woods, or maybe it’s best to just not think that hard about it.
Either way, on Saturday, the race was an out-and-back on the bike path. I love that because you can see the front-runners after the turn. It always feels good call out a “nice work” to someone fighting for first, or the first-place woman, or anyone else ahead of you. And then later in the race, as we caught up to the back of the walk and other races, it was awesome to be able to say “nice work” to someone completing a 5K or 1-mile walk.
Because we’re all out there, doing the best we can, and I love it.
I love kids holding signs that talk about how awesome their mom is. I love giving high-fives to kiddos. A friend of mine commented on how many different age groups were pretty well represented on Saturday.
Because this is a lifelong sport, if you play your cards right.
Because you can start out racing it, then turn it into whatever you want. For me, it’s straight endurance lately, and honestly mostly just time outside. For someone else, it might be entering their first race. Or doing a 1-mile walk with their sister. Or trying a run-walk method for the first time.
My friend ran her first half-marathon last year, and she was giddy. When was the last time you were truly giddy about running?
Let’s not lose that. That’s how the loneliness of the long-distance runner can be communal again. It’s passing the woman walking and telling her she’s doing great. Or the older guy with a clearly labored gait. Or being passed by half the field and feeling pure joy for them.
And that’s how I’ll feel on Monday, as I refresh and refresh and refresh my feed, watching the people I know as they compete in Boston.
Any starting line is a good starting line.
And when it comes to your own life, all the finishes are historic.
Good luck, runners.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear every other Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.