A trio of Napa siblings who saw three relatives fall ill with prostate cancer have reached out to local runners in their quest for research funds to combat the disease. On Sunday morning, hundreds came to Kennedy Park to honor cancer patients, stride for stride.
Wearing $150 running shoes, the occasional tutu and numerous T-shirts with blue ribbons, more than 300 participants — some joined by their children or even pushing baby strollers — ran and walked in the inaugural Blue Ribbon Run 5K Napa Valley.
Traversing a 3.1-mile course through the park and along the Napa River, the runners raised more than $15,000 in registration fees for Team Winter, a nonprofit that steers contributions to the Prostate Cancer Foundation for research into the disease.
“It’s been touching to see that (response), to say, ‘Wow, they’re just like us’ — that they also want to remember someone and show their support,” said Sarah Dunn, 32, who with her sisters Amy Donaldson and Julie Memmott organized the running event and a Kennedy Park health awareness fair together with Napa Valley Urology Associates. “I didn’t anticipate the attendance being this good. We even ran out of T-shirts, so that’s a good problem to have.”
The family’s efforts arose from the Million Mile March, an effort the sisters organized in early 2012 that raised $14,000 in pledges from donors who walked 100 miles in a month. That fund drive was inspired by the experiences of their father, Mark Memmott, a lighting company owner who was diagnosed with the disease more than seven years ago. Prostate cancer also afflicted an uncle and their grandfather, Lorne Memmott, who died in 2003.
More than 206,000 American men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009, and 28,088 died from it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At the Blue Ribbon run, the course was as brisk or as easygoing as participants wished it to be, with the most serious runners crossing the finish line in as little as 19 minutes while others chatted up their friends on a leisurely stroll. Whatever their chosen speed, though, many remained aware of the mission underlying an otherwise relaxed late-summer outing.
“I think it’s a great opportunity — it’s a fun event that brings a lot of people out,” said Karen Piotrowski of Fairfield, who ran the 5K course alongside her friend Leslie Decena, whose father suffered from the disease. “It’s not just about the event itself but also increasing the awareness of prostate cancer, making people aware how important it is to get early treatment.”
Surrounded by numerous informal running teams wearing T-shirt labels honoring relatives, friends and co-workers with prostate cancer, Bill Tuikka had a slightly different goal — to reach out to fellow survivors.
“People need to be more aware of this,” said the 63-year-old Napan, who endured the disease in his 50s. “A lot of men don’t get diagnosed, and events like this remind them it’s an issue they need to be aware of as they age.”
For others at the Blue Ribbon run, their purpose was as much to pave a healthier road for those not yet afflicted.
Among the runners at Kennedy Park was Michelle Hamilton of Napa, a nurse and the niece of a prostate cancer patient. Despite her family connection to the disease, her thoughts lay more with her young sons and her husband, Andrew Hamilton, who joined her on the south Napa course.
By helping raise research funds, “we’re preventing him from getting it — and our three boys at home,” she said before a run the couple would complete, hands clasped together, half an hour later.
For Sarah Dunn, the coming of a new generation — her sister Amy Donaldson is expecting her first son in November — is all the more reason to press her fight against the disease.
“I’m hoping that when Amy’s boy is a man, when he’s old enough to get prostate cancer, that there’s a cure by then,” she said.