Monday, February 6, 2012

"Race for the Cure" versus Racing for a Cause

All the buzz last week in the media and in social media discussions got me thinking about my perspective as a runner on this Race for the Cure controversy. I don't usually like to discuss politics (despite the fact that I am married to a sociologist husband who can't seem to avoid it), but in this case I will make an exception.

First let me say that I support and applaud all that Race for the Cure has done in terms of breast cancer and breast cancer research. It funds many, many worthy programs. I have six aunts, five of whom have had breast cancer, so I definitely believe in and appreciate the cause. I also appreciate what Komen has done for the running community. Many new runners have been brought into the community by being attracted to running in order to participate in one of the 5k races.

However, I am troubled when I think that politics may be entering into the distribution of the money, and I was even more troubled to learn about what I believe is the harassment of small local charities who have used the phrase "for a cure" or "for the cure" in their fund raising efforts.  I mean does a group having a local dogsled race called "Mush for the Cure" to raise funds for a local breast cancer charity really need to be sued because Komen needs to "protect its more than 200 registered trademarks," as their lawyer stated to the Huffington Post ? Isn't using the Komen name in conjunction with the words "for a cure" enough for people to keep the issue straight.

The basic idea of using races to raise money for charities is definitely a good one. One of the more meaningful races I have ever run was also a cancer fundraiser in So Cal. called Women Running Wild. The race director's sister had cancer, and the race grew from there to support an organization in her honor. One year, at check-in they gave us all balloons upon which we wrote the names of people we knew whose lives had been lost to cancer or who were battling it. Before the race we released those balloons, and it was very moving.

I saw another example of the power of this when I first moved to Michigan and the running community rallied to raise money for a wheelchair accessible minivan for Delores Hensley, a long time supporter of the running community in the area. Although I was new and did not know Delores, the response of the running community was amazing and moving. It made an impression on me immediately about the character of the running community in my new home.

These are two examples that stand out in my memory, but even showing up at packet pick-up for a race to benefit a high school cross country team in these days of shrinking budgets and seeing the coach manning the table and the team members stuffing goodie bags is heartwarming. I also love the updates on my Facebook page from Irondog. I feel good about supporting these local causes.

I guess the bottom line is, I am wholeheartedly behind the idea of using races as events to generate funds for worthy causes, but when the charitable organization itself becomes so big that marketing, managing, and litigating on behalf of the organization begins to become a huge focus, for me it is time to step out. 

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