Run for your ‘Rear’

Matthews resident organizes annual 5K to fight colon cancer

by Josh Whitener

About 2,000 people are expected at this year’s Get Your Rear in Gear 5K to fight colon cancer. Last year’s Charlotte event drew more than 1,760. (Courtesy of Get Your Rear in Gear)

For the third year in a row, thousands of people throughout the region are joining together to fight colon cancer through the annual Get Your Rear in Gear 5K Run/Walk, founded by the Colon Cancer Coalition, presented by the Presbyterian Cancer Center and sponsored by Charlotte Gastroenterology.

And it’s all thanks to Matthews resident and colon cancer survivor Sue Falco.

The Charlotte 5K, part of a series of events nationwide, is one of the premiere Get Your Rear in Gear races in the country and Falco was responsible for bringing it here. Last year, more than 1,760 people participated in the race, and Falco is expecting this year’s race to top 2,000. Registration is $25 for adults and $12 for students 18 and younger. After March 7 registration, including on race day, is $35 for adults and $15 for students 18 and younger.

“It’s unbelievable how much this race has grown each year,” Falco said.

Through the funds raised at the event, Get Your Rear in Gear works with participating practices to offer colon screenings to the uninsured and underinsured, finance the colon and rectal cancer support group within the Presbyterian Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center and provide financial assistance to colon cancer patients.

The race begins at 8:15 a.m. Saturday, March 10, beginning and ending in Charlotte’s Independence Park, with surrounding streets being reserved for the race. Awards will be given to the top three male and female winners, top fundraising teams (both individual and corporate) and the largest teams (both individual and corporate).

Prior to the race, a ½-mile Kids Fun Run for children 10 and younger, sponsored by Coca-Cola, will take place at 8:05 a.m. For the first time since the Charlotte 5K started, a survivors’ tent will serve as a place for colon cancer survivors to receive special treats, including live entertainment and a massage courtesy of Presbyterian’s Strides to Strength.

“This gives survivors a place to enjoy the event who may not be able to participate,” Falco said.

Falco was diagnosed with Stage I colon cancer in 2008. Although she was able to have the cancer successfully removed through surgery, the cancer had still left its mark on her life. To show her support for the fight against colon cancer, Falco ran in a Raleigh Get Your Rear in Gear 5K in 2009. Soon after, she contacted the Colon Cancer Coalition about bringing the race to Charlotte.

Falco was originally told that she would not be able to pull it off, due to the fact that too many 5Ks already take place in the area. Despite being worried that they wouldn’t even see 500 participants, Falco and her planning board pressed forward as the event continued to gain momentum. When the race took place, more than 1,100 people participated.

“I actually couldn’t believe it, myself,” Falco said.

Jane Hutchko, a Matthews resident and a founding planning board member of the local race, has endured an eight-year battle with colon cancer. Diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer in 2004, Hutchko has been through multiple chemotherapy and radiation treatments, as well as surgery, and recently finished another round of treatments.

For Hutchko, who plans to run in the race, the 5K is an opportunity to fight. Despite her treatments and her condition over the past three years, Hutchko has completed the 5K each year, sometimes running, sometimes walking.

“Normalcy is what gets me through,” she said. “Life is going to be fabulous. If I’m fighting this hard to stay alive, I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”

Hutchko also hopes to use her participation as an opportunity to reach out to others as well.

“I hope (the race) can put a face with the disease,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be embarrassing for people to talk about. I also don’t want people to think that it can’t happen to you, because (colon cancer is) nondiscriminatory. It’s about being assertive and not afraid to get checked.”

Colon cancer is the second most common form of cancer. In 2011, the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics reported 4,858 new cases of colon and rectal cancer. Of those cases, 1,663 were fatal. Mecklenburg and Union counties alone saw 462 new cases and 152 deaths.

“Colon cancer can be found early and diagnosed before it gets too aggressive,” Pam Gwaltney, GI navigator for Presbyterian Cancer Center, said. “The earlier we find it, the earlier we can get to it and treat it. It’s about standard care and early detection.”

Want to run?

To participate in the March 10 Get Your Rear in Gear 5K Run/Walk, sign up online at Registration is $25 for adults and $12 for 18 and younger. After March 7, including on race day, adults are $35 and students 18 and younger are $15.

The ½-mile run, for children 10 and younger, is $12 in advance or $15 after March 7 and on race day.

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