Never underestimate the drive to SURVIVE.

In the summer of 2017 Gina Bottom and Mary Jane Ruf drove to Nashville, TN to participate in the Race to Cure Sarcoma 5K, hosted by the Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA) in tandem with Vanderbilt-Ingram and Sarah Cannon Cancer Centers. The community of families, friends, neighbors, patients and survivors at the race was overwhelming in the best possible way.

Apart from their Sarcoma Networking Group at Gilda’s Club Kentuckiana (formerly Gilda’s Club Louisville) they had never seen such a show of strength and support for those impacted by sarcoma, a family of cancers including over FIFTY different types. While sarcoma is more prevalent in children, it represents less than 1% of all adult cancers, meaning there is very little research funding or advocacy going on nationwide. They drove three hours south because Louisville had no 5K or similar sarcoma related awareness event. By the time they left the race they knew that needed to change, so they set out to mobilize other survivors to make Louisville a future race host.

Unfortunately, because there is no sarcoma treatment center in Louisville, SFA said it wasn’t possible at that time, but joining a digital race was. So, naturally, they rallied their networks and blew the digital race out of the water. They were the largest team in the country and were the top team in fundraising for 2018!

This got SFA’s attention and talks began about founding a Race to Cure Sarcoma in The Ville. It would be the first in a city without a sarcoma center, but hopefully not the last.

An Executive Team was formed including Mary Jane Ruf, Megan Bale Nelson, Gina Bottom, & Melissa Draut, who along with committees of other volunteers, almost all fellow survivors/current cancer warriors, went about making the first Race to Cure Sarcoma Louisville a reality.

The vision spread fast, and the group gathered sponsors and support from a variety of businesses and families including:

YUM, Old National Bank, James Graham Brown Cancer Center, Frazier Rehab, Baptist Health, Dupont Pediatric Dentistry, Louisville Prosthetics, Kentucky Cancer Program, Thomas Law Offices, Today’s Media, Elite Homes, Goshen Family Physicians, Kort Rehab, Freedom Innovations, Crowe, The Porcini-Farmer Children’s Foundation, Annette Coxon (Realtor with ReMax Champions), Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese, Phillip and Kristen Bale (Parents of Megan Bale Nelson), and Welenken CPA.

The team is cultivating even more sponsors and support leading up to the day of the race, including in-kind donations to keep the cost as low as possible so that they can give back as much as they can to sarcoma research. They’ve already had well over 500 race registrants, including more than 30 sarcoma survivors.

Mary Jane, who the team affectionately calls “Chief”, is living with cancer, which forced her to leave her career as a nurse, but has given her a new opportunity to serve with purpose. Her charge is finding as many patients and survivors as possible in the Greater Louisville area to invite them to the race as a way of identifying and establishing a network of support for sarcoma community in Louisville. Ask any survivor and their family, and they’ll tell you that community in the crisis is every bit as essential as the right doctors.

Pictured: Race to Cure Sarcoma Louisville team members Gina Bottom, Mary Jane Ruf, Megan Bale Nelson, & Kate Wintergerst promoting the 2019 event!

You don’t have to be directly impacted by sarcoma to be impressed by the resolve of this team to spread awareness and raise funds to combat the disease that changed their lives. Sitting with a few of the organizers over coffee and hearing their individual stories, it was easy to see that cancer gave them more than it took away, the desire to leave a legacy of advocacy that will serve both the current sarcoma community and those yet to be diagnosed across the nation. Cancer research feels like a giant task, but with the combined effort of teams like this, who have already raised over $100,000 through this event, there is hope for the future.

From Left: Kate Wintergerst, Kara Whalin, Gina Bottom, Dionte Foster, Mary Jane Ruf, Melissa Draut, and Megan Bale Nelson at Gilda’s Club Kentuckiana.

They have also partnered with Special Olympics athlete Dionte Foster, a tennis player from the dual-island Carribean nation St Kitts and Nevis, as this year’s race ambassador. Dionte lost his leg to Stage 4 Osteosarcoma bone cancer and with limited specialized healthcare in his country of origin or the surrounding area, he was unable to afford a prosthetic. The team at Special Olympics partnered with Louisville Prosthetics to give him a new leg perfect for continuing his tennis career in September of 2018. His travel and follow-up care have been covered by Tommy and Alex Gift through the Mary Jane Gift Quality of Life Fund here in Louisville. After being fitted with his new prosthetic and breaking it in, Dionte was able to play tennis with University of Louisville Tennis Coach Rex Ecarma and other Special Olympic athletes who have similar prostheses. His tie to the Louisville community made him the perfect partner for the race ambassador role and the team is excited to have him in Louisville again for the race!

Online registration has closed, but there is still plenty of room to come out to Louisville’s First Annual Race to Cure Sarcoma at the Louisville Zoo on Saturday, August 17th at 8:00AM. The race fee is just $40 and on site registration closes at 7:45AM, so get there early to join in the excitement and contribute to finding a cure!

A special thanks to Mary Jane Ruf, Megan Bale Nelson, Gina Bottom, and Kate Wintergerst for sharing the story and the full Race to Cure Sarcoma Louisville team and sponsors for investing in this incredible cause. As a fellow sarcoma survivor, I can’t wait to join you as we run toward a cure!

Follow Race to Cure Sarcoma on Instagram, Facebook and check out their website for full race information!

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