By Sasha Podzorov
ROCHESTER, N.Y.— Every year, around 2,400 people join the Pink Ribbon Walk and Run hosted by the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester (BCCR). But with the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic, participants will have to find their own path to run, as organizers announced on March 20 that the event scheduled for May 10 will be moving online.
Going virtual is the best way to preserve the BCCR’s most important event of the year, after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tightened restrictions for large gatherings and social events on March 20, organizers said.
“It’s our largest fundraiser of the year,” Meredith Utman, the Special Events Coordinator of the BCCR, said via a Zoom call. “Typically, we raise around $200,000.”
Registration was steady in the early parts of 2020, even ahead of last year’s pace. But as COVID-19 hit Monroe County in March and with just over 570 cases confirmed as of April 7, registrations dropped off steeply to about half of 2019’s mark.
“At this point … if we get 1,000 people that would be wonderful,” Lori Meath, the coalition’s Outreach Director, said on a Zoom call on April 3.
The C.U.R.E. Childhood Cancer Association also decided to hold its 5K and Fun Walk on April 25 virtually.
“We certainly could have canceled the event, but this is also one of our biggest fundraisers,” Sara Harrison, the Events and Community coordinator for C.U.R.E., said via phone call. “These 5Ks bring a lot of awareness and fundraising, and the thought of canceling that was daunting.”
Money fundraised from events like the virtual 5K runs goes back to providing services that are critical to each organization’s outreach efforts.
“One of our biggest expenses is that we pay for hospital parking for all our C.U.R.E. families,” Harrison said. “We’ve gotten feedback that families will be out, running or walking together in support of C.U.R.E. and the families we have supported in the past or are supporting now.”
Likewise, the Pink Ribbon Walk and Run has a common aim — to bring together women on Mother’s Day to support breast cancer research and the BCCR, which provides many services to families impacted by breast cancer diagnoses.
“I had never experienced a run with just women, and I loved it,” Toni Lynn Swinson, who is entering her 13th year running in the event, said over a phone call.
While some people participate in the event to get an official time on their 5K, many who walk or run do so to commemorate someone they know who had breast cancer.
“My grandmother was 92 when she passed away,” Swinson said. “When I found this race, I was like ‘Oh! I should run it and raise money in memory of my grandmother.’”
Organizers hope that despite the challenges of a virtual event, community members will help the Rochester community at a crucial time during the coronavirus pandemic. And while the virtual race model may have been born out of necessity, it could be around for future races in some capacity out of convenience.
“Moving forward, come 2021, 2022, we’re going to always offer a virtual aspect of our race,” Harrison said. “Our families have supporters all across the country, all across the world who have wanted to participate, so why not!?”