NEWPORT BEACH – Jessica Nerney and 35 friends and co-workers woke up before dawn Sunday and dressed in pink T-shirts that read "Team Nerney" and "Saving the TaTa One Step at a Time."
Nerney, 31, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May. She is undergoing chemotherapy, and will have surgery after five more sessions. But Sunday morning she was upbeat, walking with her friends around Newport Center and wearing a pink wig, a tiara and a boa.
"Because I have cancer, I’ve enlisted everyone to help out with the cure," said the attorney and Newport Beach resident. "They are the best."
Team Nerney was one of scores of organized groups that participated in the Susan G. Komen Orange County Race for the Cure Sunday morning. More than 30,000 people attended the 18th annual event, which helps raise money for breast-cancer research and treatment.
Organizers estimated that the fundraiser – the biggest of its kind in California – brought in about $2.5 million, with more donations anticipated through Oct. 16.
This year, expectations were drawn back a bit because of the faltering economy. Last year the event hit record numbers with 30,000-35,000 attendees and $3.2 million raised. The financial goal this year is between $2.8 million and $3 million.
"It was absolutely a fantastic success to have this crowd, this outcome in an economy that’s tough for a lot of people," said Lisa Wolter, executive director of the Komen Orange County Affiliate. "It’s just inspiring. It says so much for the people of Orange County that, contrary to stereotype, they care."
The morning started with a 5K run/walk at 7:30 a.m. Shelby Buckley of Newport Coast won the women’s first-place medal; Michael Powers of Irvine won first place in the men’s division; and Caroline McAndrews of Laguna Niguel won first place among breast-cancer survivors.
A one-mile fun walk followed the first race; then survivors gathered on the steps of the Pacific Life headquarters and delivered emotional speeches about surviving their common foe.
Organizers introduced Elizabeth Lueke, 99, the county’s oldest breast-cancer survivor, and Hannah Powell-Auslam, 11, one of the nation’s youngest.
"I looked out there and saw that I was not alone," said Powell-Auslam, a resident of La Mirada. "There’s a lot of support out there."
Actress Sarah Chalke of TV’s "Scrubs" also offered some inspiring words to the audience.
At 9:45 a.m., another 5K run/walk took place on blocked-off streets in Newport Center and along Fashion Island. The first place winners were Sara Schaible of Newport Beach in the women’s division; John Yelsey of Corona del Mar in the men’s division; and Caroline Taylor of Coto de Caza among the survivors.
The individual who raised the most funds was Lauren Heller of Corona del Mar ($35,121), and the team that brought in the most money was I Survived Real Estate 2009 ($58,012.96).
Jennifer Feldman, 27, of Tustin, said she was amazed with Sunday’s turnout.
"There was pink in all directions, as far as you could see," said the breast-cancer survivor. "How many people breast cancer affects is astonishing. When you actually see that sea of people – that’s what puts it in perspective."
I thought that was so awesome!!!! Even the men joined in!!! The men slowed down at the end and let the women pass them My MIL survived breast cancer and is doing so well that you would never know. I’m so proud of her!!
PS The amount raised has now exceeded $4 million!