Alaska Run for Women goes virtual for another year, and one team’s message is very real: don’t delay mammograms

Nothing mixes up tears and laughter like the Alaska Run for Women, and nothing shows both sides of the event like some of the T-shirts worn by the participants.

The race, which this year is an eight-day virtual race starting on Saturday, works to raise awareness and raise funds to support the fight against the disease. And while race day brings its fair share of dark moments, it’s also a time to celebrate survival, brotherhood and the color pink.

Look at the backs of many runners and you might shed a tear. Many write the names of loved ones on cards pinned to the backs of their shirts – “In memory of my aunts”, perhaps, or “In honor of grandmother”. There are thousands of names and each represents a person with the disease, some alive, some not.

Look at the front of t-shirts and you might laugh out loud at jokes and puns. “Save the Ta-Tas. “Justice for the jugs.” “Rack package”. “Friends of the breast.”

A year ago, the team at Imaging Associates chose the name “Simply the Breast”, a nod to Tina Turner’s old song.

This year, the team opts for an appropriate name for a world emerging from a global pandemic: “Squeeze ’em for a Reason. “

Their message: If you’ve delayed your mammogram because of COVID-19, don’t delay.

“There has been a lot of discussion among breast imagers about who is delaying their screening,” said Dr. Brittany O’Steen, a diagnostic radiologist with training in breast imaging. “It’s definitely unprecedented in my career. “

A woman at the 2012 Alaska Run for Women carries a card in honor of her grandmother. (Bob Hallinen / DNA)

Women who have skipped their annual mammograms are starting to resume screenings, “and we’re finding things that would have been nice to have found several months ago,” O’Steen said.

“I don’t know if we have any data – it’s a bit early in the recovery – but I just know from our daily numbers that I think the data will confirm that we are seeing more cancers because of it,” she said.

O’Steen is a member of “Squeeze ’em for a Reason” with Sarah Wottlin, Executive Assistant for Imaging Associates and Alaska Radiologist Associates. Both women say there is no backlog for mammogram appointments.

“Please come in,” Wottlin said. “We can arrange appointments within about a day. “

Wottlin, 37, is in her first year as race director for the women’s race, which, due to the pandemic, is a virtual event for the second year in a row.

Participants have eight days, June 12-19, to participate in either the Five Mile Event or the One Mile Event. Thursday afternoon, 2,875 people had registered, including 301 survivors of breast cancer.

Online registration on is open until the last day. Donations, which reached $ 130,000 on Thursday, are being encouraged in lieu of registration fees.

Wottlin said she plans to take advantage of the eight-day duration of the event. Her team plans to participate in several small groups, and she plans to join a few of those groups. She plans to climb Flattop with one group and run through city streets and trails with another.

“I’ll try to go out every day,” she said, sometimes for a mile but at least once for five miles.

Saturday’s kick-off will include opening ceremonies on Facebook live, which will feature Alaska’s most famous breast cancer survivor, Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall. Randall, a former Run for Women champion who discovered a bump weeks after her triumph at the 2018 Winter Olympics, will lead a warm-up session with Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, a recently retired two-time Olympian.

Kikkan Randall makes her signature finish line jump as she finishes the 2019 Alaska Run for Women in third place, just over a year after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2018. Randall finished the race five miles in 29:29. (Loren Holmes / DNA)

Because the 29th edition of the race is virtual, anyone can participate. People in all 50 states and Washington, DC are registered, as well as people from 61 communities in Alaska.

Of the 35 members of “Squeeze ’em for a Reason”, several live outside of Alaska, including O”steen’s mother in Wisconsin and her sister and sister-in-law in Vermont. Her mother, Karen, has survived breast cancer several times

“She’s a great poster child for why screening is really important,” O’Steen said. “She received her first diagnosis in her forties. She had an annual screening and they discovered a small area that turned out to be invasive stage 1 cancer and only needed a lumpectomy and radiation therapy.

“Ten or 15 years later, she was still undergoing annual screenings and they found calcifications on both breasts. She opted for mastectomies and needed no treatment other than that. All because she persisted in getting her screenings. She’s a busy woman, but she took the time for it.

Runners wear “Tenacious Ta-Tas” t-shirts during the 2013 Alaska Run for Women. (DNA archive)

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