Every year, Susan G. Komen hosts events to raise awareness for breast cancer: a disease that affects one out of eight women, and 1% of cases are found in men. This year, one woman made history with Susan G. Komen.
Susan G. Komen is the largest and most-funded breast cancer foundation in the U.S. When Susan died of breast cancer in 1980 at the age of 36, her sister, Nancy Brinker, founded the organization in her memory as a way to fundraise to end breast cancer.
There are Susan G. Komen events all over the country, but in Ohio, there are four affiliates: Northwest Ohio, Northeast Ohio, Southwest Ohio and Columbus.
Some affiliates host the Race for the Cure, which is a mixed-gender 5K run followed by walkers, but other affiliates host the More Than Pink Walk, where survivors and Susan G. Komen supporters walk rather than race.
The Columbus affiliate is hosting the Southeast Ohio More Than Pink Walk on Sunday, starting at 12 p.m. at Peden Stadium at Ohio University.
Katie Carter, the executive director of the Susan G. Komen Columbus affiliate, looks forward to the race every year after 18 years of being involved with Komen.
“The event is to raise money to fund research and fund our community programs,” Carter said. “It’s also a way to honor and recognize survivors and patients going through breast cancer right now, and again to make it a community event.”
The Northwest Ohio affiliate hosted the 7th annual Findlay Race for the Cure on Saturday, Sept. 28, and the 26th annual Toledo Race for the Cure on Sunday, Sept. 29.
Joan Jepkirui, a student at the University of Toledo, won the Findlay Race for the Cure, making her mark as the first woman to ever win the race in the Northwest Ohio affiliate.
In looking through records of previous races, no other affiliate found record of a woman winning the overall competitive mixed-gender 5K, making Jepkirui the first woman to win the mixed-gender race in the entire state of Ohio.
“I don’t have words to describe winning,” Jepkirui said. “It’s amazing to represent my fellow women and women all over the world. I feel really good about it.”
Jepkirui grew up in Kenya and came to the U.S. to run for UT on a full scholarship. She will graduate in December with a degree in public health and plans to get her master's in the U.S. as well.
Though the Race for the Cure was just another way to practice her running skills, it is also something that is close to Jepkirui’s heart. Her dear friend, Barbara, had a double mastectomy, and watching her go through that made Jepkirui want to participate.
“Barbara is my shoulder to cry on,” Jepkirui said. “She’s who I can go to with anything. She’s like my second mom.”
Matthew Glick, Jepkirui’s boyfriend, is her biggest fan and is inspired by how hard she works during each race.
“I get more excited and nervous than she does,” Glick said. “I’m very competitive, and just to see her win is just so amazing. I’m so proud to see her make history.”
Jepkirui finished the race with a time of 18 minutes and four seconds, but Glick said that’s nowhere near her best 5K time.
“She’s run a 5K in 15 minutes and 50 seconds before,” Glick said. “She’s a distance runner. She even ran a few miles to cool down after the race today.”
Not only does Jepkirui feel honored and blessed to have won the race and have made history as the first woman in Ohio to win, but she also feels privileged every day to be in the U.S.
“It means a lot to me to be here,” Jepkirui said. “[The U.S.] has given me so much opportunity, and I don’t know how to repay them.”
Mary Westphal, the executive director of the Susan G. Komen Northwest Ohio affiliate, was awed and empowered to see a woman win the race, especially since breast cancer is more prominent in women.
“Breast cancer is very much a woman’s disease,” Westphal said. “While men can get it, it’s much more prevalent in women. So it was very powerful to see a female runner win the race. It was so inspiring.”
Carter was also proud of the opportunity Jepkirui took to empower women by winning the race.
“I think anytime we can empower women to be the best we can be is amazing, and I think we have so much passion and energy to fight disease and work together as a community,” Carter said. “And that’s a huge accomplishment for her to win that, and I’m very proud that it was done at a Komen event.”
After seeing the success from the other affiliates’ 2019 Komen events, Carter is excited for the Southeast Ohio race in Athens and hopes people come and register, even if they show up the day of.
Carter believes more than anything else that the event is a meaningful way to show survivors and current patients they’re not alone and to honor those who have died of breast cancer.
“It’s going to be a great day of honoring and celebrating but also making sure that the patients currently going through treatment know we’re there for them,” Carter said.
Photo by Riley Runnells.