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story.lead_photo.caption Participants approach the fi nish line near Third Street and Louisiana Avenue in Little Rock during the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K on Saturday. An estimated 23,000 people participated in the annual fundraiser for breast cancer research. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

A large, open lot near the intersection of Fourth Street and Broadway in downtown Little Rock looked like a sea of pink.

Photo by Staton Breidenthal
Cancer survivor Beth Atilano hugs her daughter, Camila Atilano, after finishing the race.

Rivers of women and men poured in from the chill of Saturday morning, all clad in pink clothing and pink ornaments of every variety -- shorts, skirts, frilly dresses, sweat clothes, coats and jackets, hats and scarves, hundreds of strands of pink beads, and of course thousands of pink ribbons, the universal color and symbol of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K and the battle against breast cancer.

Fifteen minutes after the winners crossed the finish line near Third Street and Louisiana Avenue, Little Rock Race for the Cure Chairman Shawna Long said she was not sure how many participants had completed or remained on the courses of the 5K and accompanying 2K races, but she estimated 23,000.

Thousands more served as volunteers. Many others showed up to watch and cheer for the pink parade.

"This has been the most rewarding and biggest blessing of my life," Long said.

There was a 30-foot pink Hummer limousine parked near the main stage immediately south of Fourth Street. On the north side, there were portable toilets decorated with glittery pink trim.

Travis Hendell finished first overall in 17 minutes, 10 seconds, but he was less than a city block ahead of Marissa De La Paz, the winner of last year's Race for the Cure. De La Paz finished first among women, in 17:34, which she said was her personal best.

Michelle Huff was the first breast cancer survivor to cross the line. The Little Rock Race for the Cure was established in 1992 for the sake of Huff's division, which she represented with a winning time of 22:54.

Huff, 48, of Evening Shade, said she only began to run after she was diagnosed with cancer Nov. 14, 2012. She underwent surgery Dec. 12, 2012. Her first jog came the next April, and she ran her first Race for the Cure six months later, on Oct. 19, 2013.

"I wonder sometimes if I had started in my 20s or 30s, if I would've been better, but with kids then I didn't have time," Huff said. "Now I'm an empty-nester, and I have a lot more."

Most runners and walkers were there to honor victims of breast cancer. Hendell, 27, of Pittsburgh, said he raced in honor of a close friend's aunt. Her name was posted on the back of a pink T-shirt Hendell wore under a thermal shirt.

De La Paz, 25, of Cabot, with a bit of dampness near her eyes, spoke of a maternal aunt and her maternal grandmother and great-grandmother. She managed a smile.

"It kind of runs in my family," she said.

De Le Paz, a third-year medical student at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said she wondered early in the race whether she could catch Hendell, a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant temporarily stationed at Jacksonville Air Force Base for training. By the halfway point near the Main Street Bridge, she realized she couldn't.

"He was gone," De Le Paz said. "He just took off, but it was good. I mean, he pulled me to a [personal record]."

Hendell said he once ran track for Robert Morris University, and he has a 5K best of 15:15, but has since become a more avid biker than runner.

"I've been biking a lot," he said. "Arkansas is huge for biking, so I threw out the money and bought a road bike, and I've been biking ever since. And I've never seen as many bike trails in one area as they have here."

Twenty-two-year survivor Fran Kelley, 61, sat in a wheelchair near the stage, limited not by her long-ago victorious battle with cancer but rather by the aftereffects of knee replacement surgery. She said she walked the race regularly in its early years. These days she comes to cheer, she said, and perhaps for a proper excuse to wear the pink cowboy hat on her head.

Kelley said she lost her mother and an aunt two weeks apart in 1992, a year before she was diagnosed.

"That gave me a history of what to look for," she said. "Had I not, it might have slipped up on me. Early detection is the key, and I'm so grateful that God chose me to go through this to be a living testimony of how your faith and family coming together can help you have a complete healing."

As Huff ran through the timelines of her breast cancer and subsequent running exploits, warmth generated by her race began to dissipate. The temperature was 45 degrees, and goosebumps rose from her bare arms. She shivered. Her husband, Richard Huff, approached unbeknownst to her from behind and draped a jacket across her shoulders.

It was pink, of course.

Sports on 10/23/2016

Print Headline: Stories shared in swath of pink

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