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Especially For You race raises $481,000-plus in fight against breast cancer

More than 15,000 walk and run through Cedar Rapids

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Allix Davis said she takes pride when people say she’s exactly like her mother, Debra Davis.

“That’s what I wanted to be when I was a little girl, I wanted to be exactly like my mom,” said Davis, 22, of Mesa, Arizona.

Debra Davis died after a two-year battle with breast cancer when Allix Davis was 12 and her brother Raleigh Davis was 10. She was on the mind of Allix Davis and her family on Sunday, as they joined thousands of others in Cedar Rapids for the annual Mercy Medical Center Especially For You 5-kilometer walk and run.

The event is held each year to raise awareness and money in the fight against breast cancer.

This year’s race drew competitors from 33 states and 481 different cities and raised more than $481,000 to cover the cost of mammograms and other breast care services for women who cannot afford it, said Karen Vander Sanden, public relations specialist at Mercy Medical Center.

This year’s total turnout of 15,560 walkers and runners is the third-largest turnout in the race’s history, Vander Sanden said, with the record set in 2011 with 15,792 participants.

Especially For You was founded by Mercy Medical Center and General Mills in 1991 in memory of Sandy Knight, a Cedar Rapids resident who died of breast cancer that same year.

The funds from the race have provided more than 5,000 individuals access to 9,000 services since 2008.

For the family of Debra Davis — who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2006 at age 42 — the day was bittersweet. While Nov. 1 of this year marks the 10th anniversary of her death, the day of the race — Oct. 9 — also fell on her birthday.

“With the anniversary and everything lining up the way it has, I don’t think it could be more perfect and more meaningful,” said Allix Davis.

The approximately 30-member “Team Double D’s” — formed to honor Debra Davis — raised more than $800 for the cause, said Joanne Kohl, of Cedar Rapids and Debra’s older sister.

Allix Davis said the day was especially meaningful because she got to spend her mother’s birthday with family. Allix Davis recently returned from a nearly four-year stint on an American base in Okinawa, Japan, where she served as a master-at-arms with the U.S. Navy. This year’s Especially For You is the first she was able to attend since her deployment.

“I’ve missed it since I’ve been in the service, and this being the first one and it happens to fall on her birthday at the 10-year anniversary makes it really, really special,” she said. “I appreciate it a lot more, too, because I’ve had to go without a lot since I’ve been overseas and I’ve missed out on so much.”

The Davis family has been participating in the race since 2004, the year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. They continued the tradition following her death.

“(Debra) was team captain, and when she passed away I took it over and kept it going,” Kohl said.

Though many participants in this year’s race ran to remember loved ones lost to breast cancer, some ran to celebrate victory over the disease.

Kim Vrbicek, 51, of Cedar Rapids, was among the nearly 700 cancer survivors who registered for the race. She has been cancer free for four years.

“It’s something that’s been dear to my heart even before it touched me,” she said.

Vrbicek said she was blown away by Sunday’s turnout.

“It’s overwhelming. I see all these people and it makes me just ... I don’t have the words,” she said.

Following the 5k, participants were welcomed to participate in the kids’ activities at the NewBo City Market or enjoy pancakes at a breakfast hosted by the Hiawatha and Ely fire departments. More than 1,000 people prepaid for the meal, said Carol Berchenbriter, a volunteer and care coordinator at Mercy Medical Center.

“I cannot describe how much it means to see all these people come together to support a great cause,” said Michelle Cole, the race director. She summed up the turnout simply:

“Awe-inspiring.”

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