Monday, January 25, 2010

Her rear is in gear. Now how about yours?

For Sue Falco, it started with bad news. The worst kind of bad news: On March 13, 2008, her doctor called to tell her she had cancer.

In the blink of an eye, she went from a suburban housewife and entrepreneur with two little kids to ... well, someone who might not live to see either of them grow up. But instead of getting busy dying, she got busy living.

"I woke the next morning with a choice," recalls the Matthews woman, who turns 41 next month. "I believed then that whatever path I chose would make or break the battle I was about to fight. Before getting out of bed, I decided three things: 1. To celebrate life; 2. To fight to win; and, 3. To give back. No matter what the outcome, I have lived every day since then with those three things in mind -- and I haven’t looked back since."

Falco went on to win her fight against colorectal cancer, and she's giving back with an event that will celebrate not only her life, but the lives of dozens of colorectal cancer survivors throughout the Charlotte area. The Get Your Rear in Gear 5K, which she co-founded with fellow survivor Mary-Karen Bierman, is scheduled for Saturday, March 13 -- the two-year anniversary of her original diagnosis.

About 100 runners are already signed up for the race, a solid start considering the fact that it's a first-year 5K and is still a month and a half away. Part of that has to do with the support Falco and Bierman (at left and right in the photo below) have gotten from the Colon Cancer Coalition, which has put Get Your Rear in Gear 5Ks in 21 U.S. cities to date. But most of it has to do with the women's passion for increasing awareness about the disease.

I talked to Sue Falco recently about this passion, their race, and how those two things have led to happiness, fulfillment and even a feature in Runner's World.

Q. You once told me you were "the worst track and field runner in the history of my New Jersey high school." And then you took 20 years off, only returning to the sport after recovering from your illness.

That's right. Six months after major surgery at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in November of 2008, I put on a pair of sneakers and never looked back. I started running with a few neighbors, and then the husbands and kids joined us. My first race was the Jingle Jog 5K in December '08. It doesn't sound hard, but for a cancer survivor, it was surreal. I choked up at the first mile marker and finished the race as if I had come in first place.

Q. What was the move for you that really got the ball rolling on this coming together?

There were a few milestones that really told me my dream would become reality. When Mary-Karen, the event co-director, joined my efforts; Presbyterian Cancer Center becoming presenting sponsor; hiring Paige Hauff, our Race Director; getting the permit for the course; and the news that Runner’s World would be running a story about us. Whenever just a little bit of doubt or fear creeps in, another amazing milestone is reached and those thoughts are gone!

Q. How did Runner's World come to be interested in your story?

Mary-Karen’s friend, Lauren Grossman [a Charlotte publicist], pitched our story to them a few months ago. We were so surprised and excited to have been selected because we were up against a lot of other stories.

Q. The photo shoot was earlier this month. What was that like?

We had a blast with the photographer. It was only 32 degrees that day, so two of my closest friends joined us at the shoot and held wool blankets for us during the shoot. We were in shorts and T-shirts. They told us to “think Spring!”

Q. How long did it take you to pick out your outfit for the shoot?

We still laugh about this. Let’s just say we’re not looking forward to this month’s credit card bill.

Q. Has working to organize the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K been more work than you thought it would be?

Yes and no. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was committed. I love what I’m doing, the people I’m meeting, and the cause. I guess I just don’t look at it as work. None of this would be possible without the support and hard work of our planning team, volunteers and especially our husbands. We have the most amazing group of supporters and survivors. We are all parents, so it’s not uncommon to have meetings with our children present or phone conversations interrupted multiple times, with requests for snacks or help with homework. It really is a family affair.

Q. Do you see this as a race first and a fundraiser second? Or the other way around?

Neither. Our goal is awareness. The more people learn about colorectal cancer, the more lives we will save. This is a preventable disease. That being said, it is also important that those people that are there to race enjoy the course and awards. We want them to come back year after year. Funds are also important. We need financial backing to put on a top-notch event that will generate funds to help create colorectal cancer screening programs and support groups for those in need.

Q. What's the message you and Mary-Karen are trying to convey to the average runner?

Most people affected by colorectal cancer are age 50 and over. However, colorectal cancer can affect anyone at any age. Mary-Karen [who is 44] and I are very young survivors, and we are finding more and more people like us in Charlotte every day. We want to “Change the Way People SEE Colorectal Cancer,” so that people understand that this disease does not discriminate based on age, sex or race. We want people to know the signs of colorectal cancer, and to seek medical help if they feel something is not quite right.

Q. In what ways, on race day, will survivors be honored?

For every survivor that wishes to be recognized, we will be announcing their names as they cross the finish line. In addition, they will be receiving a special gift from us to commemorate their finishing the race and surviving this cancer. We are also considering having a special “Survivors’ Row” somewhere along the course for fellow survivors and supporters to come out and cheer our runners and walkers along.

Q. I know you've also worked hard to add perks that will appeal to runners who are looking for a great race experience in addition to the "cause" component. What do you have lined up?

Omega Sports has been a great supporter of our event. The awards for Top Male and Top Female will be a free pair of running shoes and gait analysis, and the top Male and Female from each age group will receive a gift certificate from Omega Sports. Second and third place male and female from each age group will also receive an award. Dri-fit shirts and goody bags are guaranteed to the first 500 registered participants, and the kids will all get a “Get Your Little Rear in Gear” T-shirt -- along with a ribbon -- for finishing the 50 yard-dash. The Coca-Cola Discovery Vehicle with big-screen TV and Wii games will be at the event, and will be sampling some products. The list of exciting and creative prizes and activities grows every week.

Q. What's your ultimate vision for this event?

Of course I would like this to be one of the go-to events in Charlotte, but more than that I want this event to have the most impact of any race in the Queen City. We hope that over time the Charlotte community will be able to talk about colorectal cancer as we do breast cancer. We wholeheartedly thank the breast cancer supporters and survivors for paving the way for our cause.

For more information or to register for the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K, click here.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I've known Sue since we were in second grade together and this really captures her "can do" attitude and the essence of her commitment to this cause! Thanks for posting!!

Mary-Karen said...

Theoden - Thanks for helping us get the word out about colon cancer and the Inaugural Get Your Rear In Gear 5K! Mary-Karen Bierman