(Updated 11:40 a.m., Thurs., June 19)
More than 30,000 people gathered for the 16th annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Saturday morning, turning downtown St. Louis into a sea of pink balloons and tutus.
Over the past 16 years, Susan G. Komen St. Louis has raised $29 million for breast cancer research and treatment. But attendance at the annual race has been on the decline. There were 10,000 fewer participants at this year’s race compared to 2013.
Executive director Helen Chestnut said she isn’t sure why attendance has decreased, but she has some notion of the causes.
“What it could be is the fact that it's right after school lets out, people are going on vacation,” said Chestnut. “Just something as simple as that could cause a decrease in participation.”
Contributions to the nonprofit dropped 22 percent in the year following its move to stop funding Planned Parenthood, a move that was quickly reversed. Despite the controversy, Chestnut said Susan G. Komen St. Louis has no interest in dwelling in the past.
"Whatever happens around us, it doesn't change us, it doesn't change our mission," Chestnut said. "We are here to help women in need and find a cure for breast cancer."
Chestnut said brainstorming to attract more people to next year’s race has already begun. The organization will be reflecting on its past success while comparing itself to other popular races such as the Color Run, a 5K race where racers run through different colored powder along the course. By the end of the run, they're covered in a rainbow of washable paint.
“I’m not saying that we’re going to have paint next year,” said Chestnut. “I’m saying that you need to look at any event that has been going on for a while and kind of fine tune it.”
The race still has meaning for participants
Though attendance reached a 10-year low, participants in the Race for the Cure were still enthusiastic about this year’s event.
Kenyn and Deb Gravitt came to their first race eight years ago to support their dance instructor, Tammy Hall, a two-time breast cancer survivor.
“Wings of hope,” said Deb, as Kenyn showed off his butterfly wings. The Gravitts walked during this year’s race rather than fly.
A number of dance students joined the Gravitts to walk alongside Hall at the race. Hall said the sense of community is what keeps her coming back to the race each year.
“It makes you feel good that there are a lot of people that care,” said Hall, holding back tears.
Marci Seabaugh carried a silver balloon shaped in a figure eight, symbolizing her eight years as a breast cancer survivor. Seabaugh said her advice to those currently battling the disease is simple.
“Stay positive, it’s just in the moment,” Seabaugh said. “Watch funny movies, that’s what I did.”
The Susan G. Koman St. Louis organization expects to raise about $2 million this year thanks in part to the race, but also to other fundraising efforts.