Participation in the Komen Maryland Race for the Cure dropped for the second straight year, according to officials at the Sunday event. Yet those who braved the blustery climes to take part in the 21st annual event in Hunt Valley said they wouldn't dream of staying away.
Thousands of runners, many wearing T-shirts decorated to commemorate loved ones who have either survived or died from cancer, began gathering for the event near the Hunt Valley Towne Centre well before dawn, eager to take part in a 5K competitive run or to walk for the cause.
"It was never a thought for me not to do it," said Ron Allen of Washington, who participated in honor of a friend who died from breast cancer two years ago. "It's very important, just for the support of the cause itself."
Race officials blamed the attendance drop on increased competition from other events along with economic factors — including the recent government shutdown. The event experienced a similar decline last year, when a decision by the national Susan G. Komen organization to stop funding social-services organization Planned Parenthood was met with backlash.
Komen eventually reversed its policy, but affiliates such as Komen Maryland, which never funded Planned Parenthood, struggled to distance themselves from the debate.
Komen Maryland officials said Sunday's event drew 17,600 registered participants, including walk-up registrants. Officials said in a press release that they had anticipated more than 20,000 participants.
Robin Prothro, CEO of Komen Maryland, said that last year's event drew about 25,000 participants. In 2011, the Komen Maryland Race drew 30,000 participants, the most in the event's history, officials said.
"There are lots of reasons, lots of things going on. People have busy lives, different choices," Prothro said. "We know that we lost some people and we are looking forward to rebuilding and reconnecting and re-energizing the work we do in the community. We're eager to build our ranks back up."
Participants such as Caitlin Hurd of Towson said that last year's controversy did not deter her.
"I think that things happen and people make mistakes and I think this still overall is an extremely good cause. Why would I not want to support such a good cause?" said Hurd, who said she participate in support of her mother, a cancer survivor. "It's so important to come out here and support such a humongous cause that affects so many people."
Allan Banas of Nottingham participated in his first Komen Race on Sunday on behalf of friends and relatives who had been stricken with the disease.
"It's for a good cause, and I have girls, so I love pink," said Banas, pointing to the event's signature pink color.
Among yesterday's top finishers was Garrison Forest High School science teacher and cross country coach David Berdan, who won the Komen Maryland Race for the Cure 5K for the fifth straight year. Earlier this month, Berdan won the Baltimore Marathon, becoming the first local champion in the history of the Baltimore Running Festival.
The first place women's finisher was Sherry Stick of Eldersburg, who finished second last year.
Janet McAdorey of Bel Air, a five-year cancer survivor, finished first among cancer survivors. She said it marked the second time she crossed the finish line first, the previous time being shortly after she was diagnosed.
"When I first found out I had cancer, I said, 'Well, at least I can win Race for the Cure,'" said McAdorey, who was an avid runner before being diagnosed with the disease. "It keeps me going. It was an inspiration. I ran this race for my mom. She has to start chemotherapy [soon]. I told her I was going to run and win for her, and I did."