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Dec. 4, 2021

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Girlfriends half marathon energizes cancer survivors

Vancouver event supports those with disease, research

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:
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Participants in the Girlfriends Run for a Cure set off from the starting line Sunday in downtown Vancouver. Organizers said about 1,500 people registered to take part in the event, which raises money for the nonprofit Susan G.
Participants in the Girlfriends Run for a Cure set off from the starting line Sunday in downtown Vancouver. Organizers said about 1,500 people registered to take part in the event, which raises money for the nonprofit Susan G. Komen and local organizations. Photo Gallery

For more information about Susan G. Komen for the Cure visit ww5.komen.org

When Sara Dougherty was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, she had difficulty mustering up enough energy to walk across a room.

“It’s like there’s no more gas in the engine and you can’t take one more step,” she said.

But on Sunday morning, the 70-year-old Vancouver woman, whose cancer is in remission, had enough energy to run and walk in the Girlfriends Run for a Cure half marathon in Vancouver. She read about the event last year and said she wanted to participate to inspire other cancer survivors her age to exercise.

“I would like to be able to get a group of people in their 60s and 70s to do this with me next year,” said Dougherty, who has fought two different types of breast cancer.

For more information about Susan G. Komen for the Cure visit ww5.komen.org

Women of all ages and athletic ability participate in the Girlfriends run each year. It began eight years ago when Northwest Personal Training owner Sherri McMillan tried to get 100 women together to run in support of her client, Vancouver resident Joleen Skarberg, who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Four hundred women showed up that first year.

“And now look how it has evolved,” McMillan told a crowd of women standing in the streets Sunday morning in downtown Vancouver.

As they waited for the run to begin, McMillan thanked the 1,500 people who registered for the Girlfriends half (13.1 miles) and quarter (6.55 miles) marathons, and the 300 volunteers who helped pull off the event. Racers loaded up on bagels, oranges and bananas, and McMillan led them in a quick warm-up that included stretching their calves and rotating their ankles.

At 9 a.m., the racers were off. Starting near Broadway and 11th Street, the route took them past a few scenic parts of west Vancouver, including Esther Short Park and Fort Vancouver.

‘Better than I thought’

Heading into the race, Dougherty said she was nervous. She and her 35-year-old race companion planned to mix short bursts of running with longer periods of walking, and Dougherty predicted it would take them almost four hours to cross the finish line.

It took them about three hours and 25 minutes, she said later.

“It was a lot better than I thought,” said Dougherty, noting the weather was also nicer than expected. “People were so celebratory. It was just really a lot of fun.”

She said it was her third or fourth time participating in a race. Before she was first diagnosed with cancer in 2000, Dougherty said, she had always enjoyed walking, but just around the neighborhood. More than a year ago, her son invited her to walk and run in a 10K race in Spokane.

“I started walking more and more,” she said, until she was ready to do the race.

After that, she participated in a couple of more races, but none longer than a 10K.

At first, “I was discouraged by other people: ‘No way,’ ‘That’s too far,’ ‘You can’t do that,’ ” Dougherty recalled. But now she knows it is possible for her to finish a half marathon and hopes her story will inspire others.

“I would really urge other women to try it next year,” she said.

A fundraising event

In the seven years before Sunday’s event, Girlfriends raised more than $300,000 for the nonprofit Susan G. Komen and local organizations.

In addition to the half- and quarter-marathon races, the Girlfriends event included a Kids Mini-Marathon, and perks for participants once they finished the race, including massages.

All of the money raised from the Kids Mini-Marathon goes to the Children’s Center, a nonprofit that provides mental health services to children and families in Clark County.

Another aspect of the event, the Pink Brigade Guys, raised $25,000 in Sunday’s event, McMillan said. The brigade allowed men to participate in the race or other aspects of the event, if they could each raise $500 for the Kearney Breast Center at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

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Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
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