NEW BRITAIN - Walnut Hill Park turned pink Saturday for the Connecticut Breast Health Initiativeâ€™s 16th annual Race in the Park.
People wore pink T-shirts, tutus, bras, wigs and hats. Pink balloons of all different hues bobbed along the track and on white tents. Pink bows were tied on railings and lampposts.
It was a day of celebration and remembrance of those lost to breast cancer.
It was also a day to fight back.
â€śFor me, it is exhilarating to see these strong women fighting a disease that is a horrible disease,â€ť said former Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who is an honorary chair for Race in the Park. She showed her support by wearing bright pink stilettos.
Raising money, honoring survivors and bringing people together is how we fight cancer, she added.
â€śEveryone is here for one reason: to find a cure for breast cancer,â€ť Wyman said.
For all the honorary co-chairs, it was a cause close to their hearts.
â€śIâ€™m here in honor of my mother - she had breast cancer - and my sister who is a breast cancer survivor,â€ť said Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz. Bysiewicz added that she was honored to serve as honorary co-chair alongside Wyman and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart.
â€śItâ€™s a cause that is very, very close to me,â€ť Stewart said. The mayor lost one aunt to breast cancer and has another aunt who is in remission.
â€śThis is one of my favorite days in the city,â€ť said Stewart, who has been participating in the event for the last 16 years.
The day began with a survivorâ€™s breakfast.
â€śItâ€™s supposed to be very celebratory. It gives them hope and strength to see all the ribbons on the survivors hats,â€ť said CT BHI President Joyce G. Bray.
The survivors couldnâ€™t agree more.
â€śI find it uplifting to see,â€ť said Lisa Petersen, who was diagnosed in 2010. Her friends came all the way from New Hampshire to support her in the race.
Petersen said that at her first year at the race, after she was diagnosed, a woman wearing a hat covered in pink ribbons came up to her.
Petersen said she still remembers what that woman said to her: â€śDeary, youâ€™re going to be fine.â€ť
Now, Petersen is paying it forward by supporting other survivors.
She attended the race with Cindy Guendert. They both worked in the actuarial department at The Hartford and were part of the team â€śStrength in numbers.â€ť
â€śWeâ€™re the number geeks,â€ť Guendert added.
From a 40-year cancer survivor to someone just beginning cancer treatment, survivors turned out in force to raise funds to battle the disease.
Anne Clark, the 40-year cancer survivor, has been participating in the race for around 35 years, before CT BHI took it over.
â€śIâ€™m here to support all the survivors,â€ť said Clark. â€śI enjoy walking with the survivors and my family.â€ť
â€śWe do it as a family,â€ť said her daughter Kathy Clark, who is an 8-year survivor.
While a final tally of the number of runners, walkers and attendees was not yet available, Bray mentioned that they were hoping for around 4,000.
Many of them came to support a survivor they knew or in memory of a loved one they lost.
â€śThe togetherness, the community feel, the love and support is just amazing,â€ť said Margo Sklavouris, whose aunt, Lin Lemnotis, is a cancer survivor. They along with their family and friends made up the â€śMojito Mamasâ€ť team.
â€śIâ€™m out here for all the women who fought and won and all the women who fought and lost - theyâ€™re in our hearts forever,â€ť said Lemnotis.
Miguel Ramos, a new firefighter with the New Britain Fire Department, ran his first race ever at the Race in The Park. His mother is battling cancer.
â€śI love it and especially because itâ€™s for a good cause,â€ť he said.
Miss. Bristol Outstanding Teen Lindiana Frangu was a featured speaker at the breakfast. Her mother is a cancer survivor.
Frangu created a website to help families cope with someone being diagnosed with breast cancer. She also created a coloring book called â€śRainbow of Emotionsâ€ť to help people learn about the disease and express their emotions.
Whether a survivor, a supporter or simply someone who wanted to run for a good cause, runners formed a sea of pink as they lined up for the race.
â€śThis is a sea of love and love wins,â€ť said Sue Rivard, a breast cancer survivor who sang the national anthem before the race.
Mario Vazquez won the race with a time of 16:44. Heâ€™s run it for the last 16 years and said it was on his bucket list to win.
â€śI love coming here because it honors mothers,â€ť Vazquez said, adding that the race is always on Motherâ€™s Day weekend. He lost his mother when he was 20 years old.
â€śThis is how I honor her,â€ť he said.
â€śNo matter how old I get, Iâ€™m going to keep coming back,â€ť Vazquez, 40, said as he accepted his award.
Awards went to the top three male, female and survivor runners. There were also water bottles given out to winners in each age group.
Annmarie Tuxbury was the first female to finish the race with a time of 18:03.
â€śI like seeing all the people coming out and supporting the cause,â€ť said Tuxbury.
The survivor winner, Elizabeth Frugale, finished the race in 26:22.
â€śI just love coming out, supporting this event,â€ť said Fugale, a 10-year survivor.
One of the younger winners was 9-year-old Charlie Santiago, who took second place in his age group. It was his first 5K.
â€śI just want to thank my family and everyone who supported me,â€ť Charlie said.
A few runners took on an extra challenge by pushing a stroller. Marc Levesque, who ran with his wife, pushed his two kids, ages 1 and 3, across the finish line.
â€śI canâ€™t leave them behind,â€ť said Levesque. â€śThey wanted to go to.â€ť
The money raised goes toward research for a cure and research to increase quality of life for survivors, said Bray. All the money stays in Connecticut. As of last year, Race in The Park has funded over $3.75 million in grants.
Race in The Park also featured an auction, raffles, a Kids Expo with activities and a bounce house, and several Touch-a-Trucks.
New at the event was the Connecticut Artisan Market. Vendors sold soap, purses, lotions, decorations and more. CT BHI sold flowers to raise even more funds for breast cancer research.
â€śWhat weâ€™re doing here today is just the beginning of our work,â€ť Bray added.
Michelle Jalbert can be reached at email@example.com.