Race for the Cure draws thousands for annual fundraiser

05/12/2013 12:00 AM

05/12/2013 7:29 AM

About 13,500 people – clad in white and pink T-shirts – descended on Cal Expo on Saturday for the 17th annual Komen Race for the Cure.

The fundraiser to support breast cancer research drew participants from all over Northern California, including Garland Chan of San Francisco.

"This is about the community," said Chan, who came with his partner, Sat Chau.

But attendance was down significantly compared to years past. The race drew 18,000 participants and spectators last year and 25,000 in 2011.

"There's definitely a smaller crowd this year. The line used to go way back," said runner Barbara Dyas, pointing to Exposition Boulevard, the race's starting point.

The recent decline in attendance has widely been attributed to the Susan G. Komen foundation's controversial decision in January 2012 to stop funding breast cancer prevention programs at Planned Parenthood.

Komen quickly reversed course after a massive public backlash.

Dyas, 52, said she didn't run last year because of the Planned Parenthood scandal but came back Saturday in memory of a friend.

Organizers were hesitant to talk about the steady decline of their biggest event of the year.

"There's a lot of competition for races," said Kelly Plag, executive director for the Susan G. Komen Sacramento Valley affiliate. "But we've raised $1.3 million and counting."

At one point, things were looking grim, with pre-race registration down 45 percent, according to Sylvia Ramirez, events manager for the Komen affiliate.

Still, plenty of people were on hand to listen to survivors as they retold tales of their battle with breast cancer.

"Men can get this too," said Ralph Baker, 56, an optometrist in Roseville.

Baker said it took two years from the time he discovered a lump before he underwent a mastectomy in 2011. Now he is within reach of achieving remission, usually described as five years without cancer.

The 5K route snaked around a few neighborhoods but ended inside the fairgrounds.

Organizers said they did not beef up security in light of the Boston Marathon bombings. "Obviously, there's more of an alert, but we can't guarantee every single inch of everyone's life," Plag said. "We're not going to bow down to the act of terrorism."

Asked about security, Erica Neuer, 30, said she "didn't even think about it."

"You can't always live in fear," Neuer said, as she neared the finish line.

Seventy-five percent of the money raised Saturday will be funneled back into the community through grants to local groups offering breast cancer prevention programs, Plag said. The other 25 percent goes toward national breast cancer research.

"This is just a huge celebration," Plag said. "It's a great show of community support."

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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