More than 1,500 people gathered on a crisp October morning to race in the Girlfriends Run for a Cure, showing solidarity with breast cancer survivors and honoring loved ones lost to the disease.
Sporting purple jerseys and plenty of pink, the crowd raised upwards of $50,000 for breast cancer research, adding to the growing pool of funds collected by charity racing organizer Why Racing. This year marks the 12th Girlfriends event.
“Over the last 11 years, we’ve raised over half a million dollars, which is really cool,” said Sherri McMillan, president of Why Racing and founder of the Girlfriends Run. Proceeds go toward the Pink Lemonade Project, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the Kearney Breast Center.
The event kicked off at 8:30 a.m. Sunday at Vancouver’s Warehouse ’23 with a path winding along the Columbia River waterfront. Runners could participate in a 5K, 10K or half-marathon.
The race’s staging area featured tents from sponsors and vendors. Odes to survival in the form of posters declaring 0-plus to 30-plus years of fighting breast cancer dotted the chain-link fence, with balloons tied near each.
A 9 a.m., the half-marathon and 10K racers gathered at the starting line as the emcee, Greg Pressler, pumped up the crowd with a countdown. He hit zero, and off they went. Then 5K racers geared up, surrounded by speakers pumping “Turn Down For What,” and took off down Esther Street.
Upon crossing the finish line, participants were greeting by members of the Vancouver Fire Department, who volunteered at the event to hand out prizes to racers.
The crowd of women, children and men included plenty of diversity — in where they came from, and why they were inspired to sign up for the run.
The Koitzsch family turned up with birthday balloons in tow to celebrate the ninth birthday of their youngest daughter, Stella, who was running with her mother and older sister.
“Our friend Tasha has breast cancer, so we’re running for her,” Stella said.
The route was speckled with posters from “Team Jamie,” friends and family of local woman Jamie Miller who died in May after a battle with breast cancer. Some of the racers ran in solidarity with the Miller family.
“I do high school cross country,” Skyview High School student Allison Wyjko said. “I knew Jamie Miller, she was one of my really good friends’ moms. So I’m kind of running it for her.”
The Girlfriends Run for a Cure started in 2007 when Joleen Skarberg, a friend of McMillan’s, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The first event featured only a half-marathon and drew around 400 participants. It’s grown in the years since, McMillan said, and stays true to its founding principles of sisterly support.
“Bottom line — when girlfriends get together they can accomplish anything,” the event’s website states. “There’s nothing better, more beautiful than a bunch of strong, powerful, passionate women on a mission.”
That focus on positivity caught the attention of some serious runners, who come back to experience the atmosphere.
Monica Emerick, a triathlete from Portland who finished the 10K with the second-fastest time of the day, said she loves competing in Why Racing events.
“They’re fantastic. I love that they put this event on with so much love and soul, while embracing all the people who have passed and are fighting cancer, I think that’s pretty special,” Emerick said.