The 5th Annual Give Cancer the Boot Survivorship 5K and 1 Mile Walk played out a bit different in 2020. Originally planned for March, the event was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic out of concern for the safety of participants, which included many cancer survivors. When it became apparent that the pandemic wasn’t going to quickly resolve, event organizers at the Mays Cancer Center contemplated canceling the event altogether.

But sponsorship had already been secured, and by the fall, after months of event cancellations and stay-at-home orders, event organizers felt that the community could use a cause to rally around. They decided to forge ahead with a virtual event, which took some ingenuity.

Instead of gathering together for a traditional race, the event was spread out over two weeks, Nov. 7-21, giving participants the ability to run or walk their 5K at the time and place that worked for them. Event organizers created a Facebook event page to serve as the virtual hub, with participants and sponsors to posting their photos and sharing their personal experience of the event using the hashtag #givecancerthebootSA.

Cancer survivors Reina Wilson and Naomi Chavarria
Cancer survivors Reina Wilson and Naomi Chavarria participated in this year’s virtual event.

“It was not an ideal year, but the substitute and alternatives were wonderful,” said Reina Wilson, a cancer survivor and Give Cancer the Boot participant. When the race was originally scheduled early in 2020, Wilson’s best friend, Naomi Chavarria, was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation in California. By the time the virtual event launched, Chavarria had beat her battle with cancer, and the two friends were able to participate in the race together.

“The best part of the postponed walk was completing it with her,” Wilson said.

In lieu of guest speakers and vendor booths, videos and other content from sponsors were posted to the event page during the two-week event. The posts helped to inspire and encourage participants with everything from pre-race nutrition facts to survivor stories. The Tom C. Clark High School drum line even carried on their yearly tradition of revving up runners at the starting line with a recorded performance posted as the race officially commenced.

Overall, around 450 participants registered for the event, making up 18 teams of cancer survivors and their families and friends. Each participant received a T-shirt and medal in the mail as a memento of a very historic year.