Every family has been touched by cancer, or so it seems to Desiree Hortness and her aunt, Jackie Haggar-Tuschen. Both women manage fitness centers and both are currently engaged in raising support for the Avera Virtual Race Against Cancer.
"My gramma, Jackie's mom, died of cancer," Hortness said.
"She was diagnosed and three weeks later, we lost her," Haggar-Tuschen added. That was 23 years ago when her mother was 65 years old.
At the time, Haggar-Tuschen was already involved with the Avera Race Against Cancer, which Peggy Kirby started to honor her sister Judy Davis, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I know Peggy and Judy; that's how I was involved from the beginning," she said.
At the time -- 33 years ago -- Davis was not supposed to live to see her daughter's eighth-grade graduation. However, that prognosis proved to be unnecessarily bleak. She continues to live as a cancer survivor.
"She lost her husband to cancer a couple years ago. We never thought she would outlive her husband," Haggar-Tuschen said.
This year, for the second year in a row, the Avera Race Against Cancer will be held as a virtual event. Scheduled for May 8, participants can complete either a 5K or 10K walk or run before that date, with others on that date, or after May 8. The theme is "Let's Run This Town."
"It's about engagement," Haggar-Tuschen said. "It's about trying to get everybody focused on what needs to be done for cancer patients."
As one of the event coordinators, Haggar-Tuschen, who manages the Avera McKennan Fitness Center in Sioux Falls, reached out to see whether members at Anytime Fitness in Madison, which Hortness manages, would be interested in joining this year.
"I know her well enough to know that if I called her, within 24 hours, she would get this thing going," Haggar-Tuschen said.
That's exactly what happened. Hortness contacted other AnyTime Fitness locations, and they also agreed to participate. Consequently, Team StrongAF will include members from Madison, Mitchell, Watertown, Redfield and Pipestone.
"My goal is to get as many participants as possible," Hortness said. "We know cancer has affected all of our lives in some shape or form."
While she is coordinating this team through the Madison fitness center, individuals do not have to be fitness center members to participate. Anyone who wants to help raise funds to support the fight against cancer can register to participate or make a donation.
At present, Hortness hopes that Team StrongAF will have between 150 and 200 members. To register, those who wish to participate can go to AveraRaceSiouxFalls.org, click on "Register" and then on "Join A Team." To find the Anytime Fitness team, enter "StrongAF" (no spaces) in the search field. The registration fee is $35.
"All the money raised goes into regional support of services," Haggar-Tuschen said.
Services include supporting individuals who are battling cancer and their families in four general areas: screening and detection through genetic testing, advanced technology and research through clinical trials, patient resources, and whole person care with integrative medicine services.
Haggar-Tuschen made special note of integrative medicine services such as movement classes, massage therapy and nutrition services.
"There are many programs that got started by race funds," she said. Helping patients identify resources through navigation services is another example Haggar-Tuschen mentioned.
The Avera Race Against Cancer is the longest running fund-raiser of its kind. Started by the Junior League of Sioux Falls, it originally raised funds to aid in the fight against breast cancer. However, with the support of breast cancer survivors, the focus was changed to include all forms of cancer.
Currently coordinated through the Avera Foundation, the annual Race Against Cancer now has the motto "Cancer has many colors. Avera supports them all."
With this in mind, the website for the virtual race has as an incentive a customizable version of the Avera Race window sign which can be downloaded, printed and colored.
"You can come in and color your ribbon and I'll put it in the window," Hortness said.
In the past, the Avera Race Against Cancer has raised about $500,000 annually. Last year, with the first virtual run, the Avera Foundation raised around $300,000, according to Haggar-Tuschen.
"Normally, we have 6,000 people participating in this event," she said, noting the energy of the event. "It is very powerful to have everyone come together. It is very powerful to have survivors celebrating with their families."
In offering a virtual event, organizers are also offering participants greater flexibility.
"More people can get involved because you can do the race whenever you want," Hortness said. They can then post pictures to the Facebook page for the Avera Virtual Race Against Cancer.
However, participants can also gather on May 8 to share the event with other members of their team in their own communities.
"We are planning to gather some people here on May 8 and we're planning to do it together," Hortness indicated. If the weather doesn't permit an outside walk, they will use treadmills.
As of Wednesday morning, 1,331 participants have registered to participate on one of the 82 teams which have been formed for the event. The Avera Foundation has once again set the goal of raising $500,000 for the race against cancer.