This past weekend’s CIBC Run for the Cure marked the most special run I have ever done, and will probably ever do. It wasn’t just a run – it was so much more. Sure, it was only 5k. And no, it wasn’t chip-timed. Medals were not on the agenda either. So what was there? The team I created for my friend and colleague, Karen, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer this past spring. I told you a little about this team in the summer when it started to feel like something really special was happening – but since then, it has become bigger than even I could have imagined!
Click here to watch a video segment that made our local news – the magnitude of this effort is something you have to see to appreciate.
K.Lo’s Krew is the story of the little engine that could. And did! One team member at a time, one donor at a time, we amassed into a force of pink, sparkle and, most of all, hope. Although we can’t fight this battle for Karen, we are beside her every step of the way and wanted her to have an army of support – literally!
Our team grew to 145 members – colleagues past and present, friends, friends of friends, family and loved ones. And together, we raised over $40,000 for breast cancer research in Canada. A staggering total when I think back to the first goal I set for our tiny team: $5,000. As the team grew, that goal grew too. But never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted how far we could climb. We ended up being the top post-secondary team in Canada!
After months of rallying, recruiting and soliciting donors and team sponsors, Run Day was upon us. I have never been so excited for a race! It was a grey, damp day with rain threatening to fall – but no one was going to rain on this parade (or should I say, on this tutu brigade!). Our team shone so brightly in our hot pink outfits and accessories, that we didn’t even need the sun. What shone most brightly were the smiles on everyone’s faces and the emotion of the day that could not be contained.
Walking up to the run site well before the race, I was surprised to see some of the team already there – in cool weather and drizzling rain on a Sunday morning, looking like nothing could dampen their spirits. We admired each other’s run day attire, and danced to the beat of the music while our team kept coming…and coming…and coming. We had a whole cheering section on top of our team! As I gave media interviews and tallied our final totals, the Krew was swelling in size and it was very obvious that we were THE team to watch!
The actual run was almost secondary to everything we did in lead up to this day: the events, the fundraisers, the tutu making parties, the dress rehearsal. It all culminated in this moment – just being there, being part of something we could all feel was truly remarkable. It can’t be described in words, but luckily we had our own photographer on hand (thank you, Greg Black!) to help us tell this story.
We had arranged for Karen to ride in a convertible, VIP style, along the course to see her mighty Krew in action. But before she was escorted to her car, we listened to stories of survivors. We cheered for those who have survived and those who are fighting now. And we did all of this in celebration and hope – it was a party atmosphere from beginning to end, a true celebration of life. When the warm-up started, the participants jumped into action, ready to channel some of this energy!
As Karen hopped in her convertible, we lined up for the race and I started my iPod which was set to begin with Melissa Etheridge’s anthem, “Run for Life”. Everywhere I looked, I could see a K.Lo’s Krew team member – some running their first 5k races ever, some running with their kids, some running in groups, some running solo – and I was overcome with what we had accomplished. For the first but not the last time that day, the tears started to flow. But there was no time for that! There was a race to be run and Karen was waiting for us!
I started near the back of the pack which, on a normal race day, would not have been a great strategy – but on this particular day, it was perfect. Once I ran by my beautiful daughters and cheering family, I turned up the pace and began to bob and weave through the crowd. On any other day, running through such a crowded course would be frustrating…but as I ran, I could see K.Lo’s Krew everywhere I looked. Coming from the back allowed me to see the full visual impact of our amazing team in action, and connect with many of them on the course. Some of them teased me as I flew by in my tutu, some of them yelled out and high fived – the camaraderie, energy and mutual support was amazing.
The energy of the day had me flying along without noticing or even caring about my pace. Coming past the first kilometer, Karen was on the course in her convertible, cheering loudly. I was already on such a high, and this only boosted me further! My second kilometer clocked in well under 5 minutes, according to Garmin – not a pace I can sustain, but it does go to show you how mental your run can be. If you feel like flying, you CAN!
At 3.5 km, I noticed Karen’s husband up ahead and that gave me another boost. He had been training for this event for Karen, and fundraising too – he actually won a top fundraising award for our city! It was so much fun to see him on the course and it was a great feeling of solidarity to connect. Later, he told me he wanted to catch up to me after I passed but, just as he kicked things up a notch, so did I! And that’s because I could see the convertible again – Karen had moved to be situated at the 4.5 km mark to cheer us in. We had rolled out the pink carpet for Karen in every way we could, and royalty should never be kept waiting!
She cheered so loudly, I could hear her over my music as I came in front of her car. As I posed and hammed it up for her, I thought ‘this could end badly’ (ie with a very uncoordinated tumble and broken leg) – luckily, that didn’t happen! I ran the final stretch and crossed the finish line to notice my dear sweet Garmin telling me I had PR’ed on the most emotional race of my life – and the only one where time really didn’t matter at all. Crossing the finish line was about so much more than finishing the 5K run. It was the end of a journey that started months ago and one which has changed the way I see the world in many ways – it has truly been that powerful and inspiring. I cannot begin to describe the overwhelming emotions that swept over me like a tidal wave. Might as well book-end the race with tears, right? However, it didn’t last long as I had a Krew to cheer in through the finish line! Some came through laughing, some smiling, some sweating…one by one and some in groups…K.Lo’s Krew amassed again, swelling in size and taking up most of the staging area.
We gathered for the Awards Ceremony because we knew we had made our mark – and two of the top three fundraisers were from K.Lo’s Krew! We were very excited to hear the outcome of the Post Secondary Challenge as well because Karen, and most of our team, work at Queen’s University. We hoped to be the difference this year in helping our school take top honours. It was then announced that Queen’s had in fact won the Post Secondary Challenge, something that had never happened before. We were asked to accept the trophy on behalf of Queen’s. That trophy might as well have been an Oscar – the crowd support was absolutely incredible! Every single person on our team was invested and committed to this cause. We didn’t do it for awards or accolades or media coverage – but this was the culminating moment of celebration for accomplishing something significant, something that none of us could have achieved on our own.
Words cannot adequately describe my experience with K.Lo’s Krew. What I can say is that we came out as the top team not because we had any corporate sponsors or major donors – but because we had the most heart. This experience taught me that you can BE the change you want to see in the world. And that the little engine that could, with enough heart and soul, absolutely and positively can.
This week, I went for my regular Tuesday run. As I was running, a flash of pink caught my eye. Then another one. And yet another. I realized I was running on part of the race course, now decorated with reminders of K.Lo’s Krew: pink boa feathers, flowers and even little pieces of tulle. On a dark and rainy night, they were like little rays of sunshine lighting up the world and guiding my way. I can only hope that is what K.Lo’s Krew has done for Karen.