RACE FOR THE CURE: Toledo race founder celebrates 20 years of su - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

RACE FOR THE CURE: Toledo race founder celebrates 20 years of survival, growth

Karen Ridenour Karen Ridenour
TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) -

The upcoming Race for the Cure will be the 20th Komen event in Toledo. It's still 3.1 miles long, but it's come much further than that over the years.

One couple will be there who helped give the event birth and know their work and this race have saved many lives.

"It was [originally] an all woman's race," said Karen Ridenour, who organized the first race in northwest Ohio. "Men were not included that year, and it was only running. We didn't have walking events or anything like that."

Karen was a young mother of four who chaired the Junior League's Wellness Project. That's how the race started – a project to help women with a subject that, at that time, wasn't really being talked about.

"There [weren't] a lot of events, racing events," she said. "It was kind of a new venue for bringing awareness to different issues, and also, breast cancer wasn't really talked about back then."

There were 600 runners and $12,000 was raised that first year, making it a successful project. But soon, something else made it personal for Karen.

"It was almost six months to the day of the first race, I went in and was diagnosed with breast cancer, having had no family history of it," she said. "It was very ironic to me. I kind of thought, ‘Here I am, being involved in this' - and continuing to be involved because it was such a successful event, and then being bald, going through my chemotherapy and walking the second race six months after that."

Karen's husband Mark, a founding member of the Northwest Ohio Komen board, remembers how he felt as a young father and husband.

"It's a gut-shot, for sure," he said.

But then he began asking the questions like, "What do we do? What's the process? What's the next step?"

And he issued a challenge to his sick wife.

"Karen didn't like it when I said it at the time," he said. "But I told her she better get better because the prospect of me and four kids probably isn't very good."

With four children under age eight, and the youngest just a year old, life was changing for the Ridenours. They admit while facing mortality, they grew up fast.

Karen joined a clinical trial for younger women with aggressive cancers. Before her treatment was over, the trial became protocol. She survived and the Komen cause, the race, the grants – all of it is now woven into the fabric of her life.

"Another thing that is maybe the most significant part of 20 years is the survival rate is so much higher than it was 20, 30 years ago, even 10 years ago," Mark said.

That makes the Ridenours, and thousands of volunteers and participants in the race, life-savers.

"I truly believe that," Karen said. "Not just me, but everybody who's been involved."

Now on the 20th running of this race, what does this founder and survivor expect to think about? The same things she's though about every year.

"I think of all the wonderful women I know, how fortunate I am personally, and of all of those who haven't been as fortunate," she said. "Every single name sticks in my head. So those are the people and those are the things that I think about on race day."

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