Twenty-six years is a big milestone for any philanthropic endeavor, and Susan G. Komen Arkansas is celebrating the legacy of its famous Race for the Cure with a new spin on the beloved event. This year, the organization is rolling out the first-ever More Than Pink Walk with the hopes that more people can and will join the sea of pink as they set off from Riverfront Park on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 26.
Ahead of the More Than Pink Walk, we talked with co-chairs Aimee Shelby and Lindsey Gray about what led them to support Komen Arkansas and what’s in store for this year’s reimagined event.
What inspired you to get involved with Komen Arkansas?
Lindsey Gray: My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 10 years old, 29 years ago. She and I have done the race since it came to Little Rock 26 years ago. We are blessed that she is a survivor with no recurrence. I began volunteering with Komen three years ago as they explored some varied fundraising ideas. When they asked Aimee and me to chair this new concept, it was an easy yes.
Aimee Shelby: Two of my favorite aunts battled breast cancer during my high school and college days. Seeing them struggle, fight and win despite the odds is something that remains with me today. Both ladies are very special to me and I’ll never forget their courage and strength. I started running in their honor when I moved to Little Rock.
What led to the total revamp of the newly re-named More Than Pink Walk. Why was a change needed?
LG: Nationally, funds raised through races are steadily declining. We’ve certainly felt that at Komen, where, in the past, our race has seen upwards of 44,000 registered participants and last year saw just over 11,000 registrants. The crowds were still coming for race day activities but not registering for the race, and therefore not financially supporting the cause. Only 3% of our registrants were actually running and the expense to have a timed and qualified race far exceeded the money raised by that segment.
With a walk, everyone can participate. The shorter course, which will still include both bridges so we can see that sea of pink as we look either way, will allow more families to be able to take part.
In the beginning years, our race was just for women, but the walk invites everyone to register and walk with us in celebration or in memory of our loved ones. We want people to see that Komen is also about research, care, action and community.
AS: We wanted to return to our roots, so to speak. We wanted to get back to the mission of Komen Arkansas and that is raising funds to detect, prevent and cure breast cancer. This year the participants will enjoy a more festival-like feel, more of a celebration of life, and ultimately a more intimate connection to the mission of Komen Arkansas. It’s about fundraising but also our four pillars of community, care, action and research. It’s not about how fast you can run or how far you can run, it’s about saving lives and finding a cure for a far-too-deadly disease.
Can you tell me about any new initiatives Komen Arkansas is working on?
LG: I think the main initiative is to grow the funds we can spread through the state to make progress in the fight against breast cancer. Instead of spreading our energy over more events, the goal is to streamline and improve the signature events we currently have. Runway for the Cure and the More Than Pink Walk are the primary fundraisers for Komen of Central Arkansas. We also have the northeast race in Jonesboro and the Texarkana race as part of the fundraising for Komen Arkansas.
How will this year’s event be structured?
LG: With the new format, our survivors will be celebrated and cheered as they make their way to the front of the crowd where they will lead the walk. We will start and finish inside Riverfront Park where we will have tents, a kid zone, food trucks and the survivor breakfast. Moving to a walk also allows us to start a little later so we will begin at 9 a.m. and head out over the bridges and back through downtown Little Rock with familiar faces and places along the route.
What do you love about this event?
AS: I love the sense of community. In this age of social media, it’s rare to connect with others on a personal level. I love watching family and friends turn out to support or remember someone. It is so touching to see everyone coming together with a common goal.
What have been some of your favorite memories at the walks over the years?
LG: My favorite moment is standing on the Broadway Bridge and seeing the sea of pink behind me and in front of me. My mom and I always pause a moment there and take in the view. While we are celebrating her survivorhood, she has lost many friends along the way. I love the cards on people’s backs that honor the women they walk for, making the day personal for everyone. I love the energy along the route with dancing, music, silly outfits all encouraging the participants to keep going and that we’re all in it together.
What are you most looking forward to with this year’s event?
AS: I can’t wait for everyone to see what we’ve been working on. It’s a big change, but the only constant is change. We had a great “run” with the Race for the Cure for 25 years, now let’s see what we can do in the next 25 and beyond. I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised with the new format.
LG: New energy and excitement for the fun changes. Also having my mom as the honored survivor of the walk this year is extra special for me. She is my best friend and the reason I support Komen. It’s been so special to do this with her and to be able to celebrate her 29 years big this year.