Avera race changes name to reflect broader approach

April 30, 2019

The race formerly known as the Avera Race Against Breast Cancer will take on a new name this year as thousands of runners and walkers prepare to participate.

The event held May 11 is now the Avera Race Against Cancer – a subtle change but with big significance.

“The goal has always been to bring awareness to cancer. It’s been about celebrating those affected by cancer and their families, honoring those who are no longer with us and to raise dollars to support local programming for those affected by cancer,” said Kris Gaster, assistant vice president of outpatient services as the Avera Cancer Institute and a member of the race’s executive committee.

The race marked 30 years in 2018, after beginning as an effort by the Junior League of Sioux Falls, led by Peggy Kirby, to honor her sister and cancer survivor, Judy Davis.

Davis was the first of a group dubbed the Pink Ladies, survivors who became ambassadors for the race. It was called the Race Against Breast Cancer for years, and then about five years ago added the Avera name.

Last fall, the Pink Ladies gathered to talk about the race, and Davis delivered a personal request.

“She encouraged the Pink Ladies to think strong about dropping the word ‘breast’ and making it the Race Against Cancer because her husband, Phil, had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma,” Gaster said.

They went around the room, and other stories emerged.

“One shared she had felt so guilty at these races because her son came out to support her and he was a testicular cancer survivor,” Gaster said. “Story after story was told, and after they went around the room, they knew this was the right thing to do. It is time to open our arms widely and embrace all those regardless of the type of cancer they have. So, as a group, they made a decision the time is now.”

Phil Davis was named honorary chair of the first Avera Race Against Cancer — before he died earlier this year.

“He was thrilled and cried over being asked to do this because it’s a race he’s embraced for 30 years, and he was honored to be asked to be the first man who has been part of the race as honorary chair,” Gaster said.

“Talk about full circle. And it was an opportunity to honor all the support he’d given Judy and the race over the years.”

Funds from the race always have benefited those with any type of cancer, supporting programs such as integrative therapies that bring art and music into infusion centers, fitness programs for rehabilitation and money to offset co-pay requirements for genetic testing for those who can’t afford it. It also has helped support breast cancer research, screenings and other support services.

“We still want to help those with breast cancer, but the allocation of dollars will broaden out,” Gaster said.

More than 3,000 people have registered so far to walk or run, and there is still space available. Click here to learn more and register.

“We’ve heard very positive comments about the fact that we are opening it up to all those affected by cancer, and I think that could be a component of why the race numbers are up a bit,” Gaster said.

Avera race changes name to reflect broader approach

The race formerly known as the Avera Race Against Breast Cancer will take on a new name this year as thousands of runners and walkers prepare to participate.

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