Sacramento Undy 5000 participants race in underwear to raise colon cancer funding, awareness

03/04/2012 12:00 AM

04/18/2013 7:45 PM

There is no shortage of comic potential when someone runs around with their underwear worn outside their clothing.

On Saturday, in Land Park, many people did just that, in a lighthearted pursuit tinged with a ribbon of less-than-comic urgency – the Undy 5000, a 5-kilometer race/walk whose underlying goal is to shine a light on colon cancer.

It was the first time the race, which is staged by the Colon Cancer Alliance in many cities, was offered in Sacramento. More than 550 runners participated in the 5K and accompanying 1 mile race.

Many were running or walking the course because their lives have been touched by the disease – which is expected to kill more than 51,000 peole in the United States in 2012.

Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the United States.

The 5K race was won by Jackson Burke with a time of 17:42.

But speed was not the main focus on Saturday. The race was a clarion call for people to take the disease and preventive steps seriously, and a time to remember those who succumbed to the disease.

"I'm running this race because I have friends and loved ones who have had colon cancer, or are fighting colon cancer at this point," said Debbie Chabra of Roseville.

Chabra ran with a team. As a nurse who works in the surgical unit at Kaiser Permanente in Roseville, she sees how prevalent the disease is and what it can do to the human body.

"This race brings about awareness and compassion and helps people know more about it because you have to be a fighter and you have to be aggressive," she said.

People with a parent, sibling or child who has colon cancer are at two to three times the risk of developing the cancer as those without a family history.

One of those running the race Saturday was Debbie Whiteley.

"My grandfather's sister was too embarrassed to go to the doctor, and that's why she passed away from it," she said. "My grandfather did go and he survived, so I think it's real important to get the word out."

The race owes its origin to Fran Watson, who was told in February 2006 that she had stage III colon cancer. She was 27 at the time. Her 41-year-old sister got the same diagnosis a scant two months later.

In 2008, a year after chemotherapy and removal of 18 inches of her colon, Watson was working for the CCA and getting the first Undy 500 race, in Philadelphia, Pa., off the ground. More than 500 people showed up, and the event raised more than $115,000.

"Last year the organization raised over $1 million," said Daniella Peña, national operations manager with Undy 5000 and the CCA. A portion of the money it brings in stays in the host community to make available free screenings for those who are underinsured or do not have health insurance.

"We like to put our money where our mouth is," said Peña.

In Sacramento, proceeds will be given to the California Colorectal Coalition.

"Colon cancer is an issue that a lot of people do not talk about on a normal basis," said Peña. "They don't realize how common the disease is and how preventable. Our research shows that only about 60 percent of people get screened who meet the qualification for a screening," she said.


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