Northwest Ohio Komen for the Cure is celebrating its 20th anniversary Race for the Cure this year, expecting nearly 20,000 people to participate in downtown Toledo.
But the Race for the Cure started with much more humble beginnings in June of 1994. That year, it was a women-only event, with 600 women running and walking a race course around the Franklin Park Mall. That race raised $12,000 dollars and started what would become the largest participatory event in northwest Ohio.
Karen Ridenour was on the committee that brought the first race to Toledo.
"It really was an emotional day," she remembered. "Then at the end when we had our little ceremony, to see the cohesiveness of the women and that bond, it was very powerful."
WTOL committed to sponsor the race the following year, and there were some big changes: It moved to downtown Toledo, and men were invited to walk and run in this one. Attendance grew from 600 to 1,300 participants, raising even more money to fight breast cancer.
That year, a small group of women wore pink caps to show they were breast cancer survivors. Among them: a young mother named Karen Ridenour! Just one year after she helped organize that first race, Karen had become one of the 1-in-8 women diagnosed with breast cancer.
"It was humbling," Karen said. "It was wonderful to see people who really, really cheered you on and wanted the best for you."
The NW Ohio Race for the Cure doubled in size in 1996, and again in 1997 to nearly 5,000 participants. Word was spreading about this remarkable event to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. By 1999, 8,300 participants raised $200,000 and the race had grown to a point where it couldn't just be handled by a group of volunteers.
The national Susan G. Komen office wanted Toledo to establish a formal affiliate chapter with a board of directors to better track the money and services being offered. With his business savvy as executive vice president and CFO at Heidtman Steel, and his personal commitment to fight breast cancer, there really was no better person to lead that effort than Karen's husband Mark Ridenour.
"The affiliate is now 24 counties in northwest Ohio and Monroe County, Michigan," Mark said. "And that's a big area. I think there are 1.8 million people in there, and almost 4,000 people were diagnosed with breast cancer in our area. That's a lot of people!"
In 2003, the 10-year anniversary Race for the Cure, 12,000 participants raised $670,000. In celebration of the anniversary, a gala event featuring breast cancer survivor Olivia Newton John increased awareness and resources, allowing the local affiliate to distribute nearly $350,000 in grants in one year.
The 2010 Race for the Cure hit a big milestone, raising $1 million for the first time. That meant they were able to give $700,000 that year to programs that help save lives in northwest Ohio.
"We've raised almost $11 million in this community, and a little more than eight of it has stayed right here," Mark said. "That can do a lot of good work for people who need it!"
To see who that is helping, join us this weekend for the Race for the Cure, and look around you. They race here, they give back here, they save lives here, and this year, they celebrate 20 years of service here.