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Organized as a virtual event, the DONNA Foundation’s 2021 National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer will allow participants to run in their neighborhoods — or on their treadmills.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many meetings and events virtual, from medical appointments to family gatherings and celebrations. Now, the DONNA Foundation is throwing its running shoes into the cyberspace ring, with plans to hold its National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer virtually Feb. 12-14, 2021.
Through its “Everywhere, Together” campaign, the foundation announced that the DONNA Marathon Weekend and the Fearless Series, which together encompass all signature DONNA events, will be conducted in a virtual format through the spring of next year.
“We felt it was really important that we mitigate risk to the organization and to our runners and survivors, in particular, when making that decision,” says Michelle McCullough, chief financial officer of the DONNA Foundation, which provides financial assistance and support to those living with breast cancer and funds breast cancer research. “Gathering in large groups is just not a safe thing right now, and we felt that making that decision and planning for a really good unique virtual experience in 2021 would allow us to continue to provide financial support through our programs and to our survivors and really set us up to have a significant event in 2022.”
Although those events will be virtual, the foundation was able to host its February 2020 National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer, the only U.S. marathon dedicated to breast cancer research and care, without a hitch before the pandemic forced many into quarantine.
“It’s interesting now that we are where we are. And looking back, we can consider it a milestone, but at the time, we certainly didn’t know,” McCullough says. “For us, this is our signature event ... If we couldn’t have the race this year, it would have been devastating. We feel very fortunate that we were able to pull that off before things changed.”
She feels especially lucky that she got to participate in 2020 — her run that day qualified her for the Boston Marathon. “When I thought about what the race meant to me, (I realized it’s about) what it supports, as well as being able to (participate) in my community, (in the Beaches Town Center) that I run every single day. It was just kind of a no-brainer,” McCullough says. “I was really excited about the event because I ended up reaching my goal and qualifying for Boston, and I was able to do that on a really beautiful day running stride for stride, the whole 26.2 miles, with a dear friend of mine. (We crossed) the finish line together with lots of friends and family there waiting for me. It was probably the most special year ever.”
Bringing the 2021 run into the virtual space was key to holding a safe event. Another upside of that decision is that the new format will enable more people to participate. “Our hope is that we get participation not just nationwide but worldwide, to celebrate finish lines literally across the world to drive the awareness and support for our foundation that we need to continue our programs,” McCullough says.
The virtual setting will also foster flexibility in running the 2021 events, she says: “It’s going to be a lot of fun to allow participants to do things their way. They can create their own start and finish line.” This means that participants can sign up for the events and then run on their own. For example, someone signed up for the 5K would run 3.1 miles on their own, perhaps in their neighborhood or even on a treadmill.
In 2015, Allison Ruona received a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ, right around the time of that year’s marathon weekend. A close friend was running in the event, and Ruona decided that she could not miss it the following year. She signed up in 2016 and has participated ever since.
“(Participating in the weekend is) another way to bring awareness to people,” Ruona says. “Anything that lets people talk about (breast cancer) in a positive light ... helps them to relate. It’s a good way to just get the message out there and get people to talk about it and be aware.”
McCullough notes that the race serves to recognize those affected by breast cancer. “We think of (the National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer) as a celebration of survivorship,” she says. “Our cancer patients and survivors, they live in this place of fear. And DONNA Marathon Weekend allows them to celebrate the hope and love that they’re surrounded with. That’s something that’s really special and unique. It’s not just another race, but there’s tremendous meaning behind it.”
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