The race is on in Cedar Rapids, and Michelle Cole is ready to lead it

Especially for You expects to draw 16,000 participants Sunday

Race director Michelle Cole stands for a portrait in the Hall-Perrine Cancer Center at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Race director Michelle Cole stands for a portrait in the Hall-Perrine Cancer Center at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — It was one month until race day and Michelle Cole was leafing through two five-inch-thick, three-ring binders. The binders are only two of many that she’s filled with information about the Especially for You Race, the annual Mercy Medical Center 5K run against breast cancer taking place Sunday.

They’re filled with information about the road closures, children’s activities, committee meeting minutes and the post-race pancake breakfast put on by area fire departments.

Putting on the race — which has more than 16,000 participants and always is held in October — is no small feat.

Last year, there were participants from more than 35 states, more than 680 breast-cancer survivors and 350 volunteers. It takes 30 minutes just to get everyone across the start line, said Cole, the race director.

Cole, a Mercy employee, has spent almost the entirety of her adult life fundraising for organizations working to better diagnose and treat cancer. That’s because cancer has had heavily influenced her life.

When she was 16 years old, her father was diagnosed with melanoma. He died by the time she hit 20.

“There have also been a number of friends of mine who have battled breast cancer,” she said.

She worked for the American Cancer Society and has done oncology outreach. And while she participated in the Especially for You race for a number of years, she never thought she’d end up in charge of it.


“There was one year — when I was standing in the sea of people — I thought, ‘Wow this would just take so much to coordinate.’” she recalled.

She was certainly right.

The race will begin at 8 a.m., with the course starting outside the Hall-Perrine Cancer Center, 10th Street SE., and ending in NewBo. Cole and volunteers work closely with the city of Cedar Rapids to get the necessary roads on the course route shut down to traffic and inform home and business owners that they’re on the route.

General Mills, one of the race’s sponsors, brings over semi-trucks full of snacks and swag for goody bags. About 10 local not-for-profits are offering kids’ activities from crafts to face-painting.

And before the race, there is an elaborate photo with all the participating breast-cancer survivors — last years survivors spelled out the number 25 for the race’s anniversary.

“It’s really amazing,” Cole said. “I wish I could describe it — but the wheels keep spinning, and we come up with more and more ways to enhance this event.”

The first Especially for You race took place in 1991 after Sandy Knight, a Cedar Rapids resident, died of breast cancer. Knight wanted more women — regardless of income — to have greater access to breast-cancer screenings and diagnostics, and her family worked with Mercy to make that a reality.

Since 2008, funds from the race has provided more than 5,000 individuals access to 9,000 services.

Because of the race’s success, Mercy has been able to expand services it covers, including mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, molecular breast imaging and fees for office visits.

It’s also doubled in size since Cole took over.

But Cole, who has been in charge of putting on the race for about nine years, is quick to brush away any praise for herself.


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She believes part of the reason the race has seen so much growth comes from participants knowing their dollars are staying local and helping women and men in their community.

“I can’t take credit for this,” she said. “The generosity of the community is what lead to this growth.

“There are thousands and thousands of people and thousands of hours put into this. We have 64 very active volunteers this year and 21 subcommittees that are the heart and soul and backbone of this operation.”


If you want to watch the race, get there early.

What: Especially for You race against breast cancer

When: Opening ceremonies will begin at 7:45 a.m., with the race itself to start at 8 a.m.

Where: Starting line will be in front of the Hall-Perrine Cancer Center, 10th Street SE. The finish line will be in NewBo.

Parking: All downtown garages will be open at $2 per car.

For more information, go to



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