When the race becomes personal - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

When the race becomes personal

13th annual North Idaho Race for the Cure attracts 15,000

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Posted: Monday, September 24, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 11:48 am, Fri Nov 16, 2012.

COEUR d'ALENE - For years, Martha Armitage ran or walked the North Idaho Race for the Cure, but never as a survivor, never as a couple battling breast cancer themselves.

But in August, Armitage was diagnosed with the disease, so when the 38-year-old lined up at the starting line at North Idaho College on Sunday, everything about the race seemed different.

It seemed more personal.

"It's very emotional," she said after crossing the finish line, flanked by friends and family all clad in pink, about tackling the race for the first time as a survivor. "But you have great friends and support. They can get you through it. They really can."

Just over 15,000 people, most like Armitage's friends all dressed in pink, took to the streets during the 13th annual Race for the Cure to benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation. While the annual tradition raises money for cancer research, the event acts as support system for those facing the challenge as well as celebration for those who have beaten it.

More than 200 of the participants were survivors, and throngs of people dressed in elaborate costumes while everyone cheered everyone else on during the 3-mile course that wrapped from the college along the lake shore to downtown and back again.

"It really is about celebrating life and those who have lost the battle to breast cancer, or are going through it or know someone who is," said Molly Nota, race manager. "It's a really powerful day."

One of the survivors was Wilma Westlund, 73, who beat the disease 20 years ago and crossed the finish line with her daughter Laura Hill and granddaughter Emma Hill.

A nurse, Westlund not only has personal experience - she deals with the disease frequently in the medical field. It all adds up, she said, to an emotional, reflective day.

"It's very satisfying," she said after slapping a high-five with North Idaho College wrestler and race day volunteer Bryan Smith at the finish line. "You don't ever forget (an experience like) that."

The race is also just that, a race. Matthew Mattison was the top male finisher, crossing in 17 minutes and 30 seconds, while Nancy Ullrich-Merril took top female honors with a time of 20:48. But with around 200 volunteers helping, the event was more about camaraderie than clock time.

"I'm not in it for the time," said Denise Levi, as she walked down Rosenberry Drive. Levi doesn't have anyone in her immediate circles directly affected by the disease, but wanted to join the cause as a way to help out. "It's to see everyone dressed up ... It's good to see all the support."

Entering race day, the total amount raised was around $27,000. The deadline to raise cash runs through Oct. 31, so the amount is increasing daily. From the total, 75 percent of it will stay in the local community for patient assistant, screenings, outreach and education. The remainder will go toward national research.

For Armitage, after she was diagnosed, her friends set up a pledge drive on her behalf. The goal was $1,000, but after four weeks, they'd raised nearly $11,000.

"It just brings it home," her husband, Brett Armitage, said of seeing Martha's friends and family rally around her, as well as the scores of other people dealing with the same, difficult circumstances. "What I've realized is everyone has a need to give and support, you just have to find that outlet."

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