FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Rhonda Loft’s mother was a big fan of the New York Yankees. For the past five years, the Fairfield woman has participated in a unique event to honor her mother, who died of cancer.
Loft will participate again this year in the Damon Runyon 5K at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, Aug. 3, for the sixth straight time. The run/walk benefits cancer research.
Two years ago, the Damon Runyon event occurred three days after the death of her mother, Fran Harris. This year’s run falls on the anniversary of her mother’s passing.
“The year she passed away was the hardest,’’ Loft said. “She was a big fan. I did it by myself the first two years, and have since created a team, Friends of Fran. It’s always very emotional.”
Besides remembering her mother, the race at Yankee Stadium also gives Loft a chance to celebrate her passion for the Yankees. In January, she attended the Yankees Fantasy Camp for Women at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. Some women she met there will be part of her team for the run on Sunday.
“The first year I remembered I said to my husband that I’ll call him when I get on to the field,’’ Loft said. The race encompasses the entire stadium structure, including a lap on the warming track. “I finished the first lap when I realized I hadn’t called. I was so excited to be there. Every few feet I’d stop for a picture.’’
The event is expected to draw thousands of participants from across the country and globe, including baseball fans, runners, cancer survivors, and supporters. The first heat of elite runners starts at 9:30 a.m., followed by heats of recreational runners and walkers throughout the day. The last heat begins in the early afternoon.
The course winds through the ballpark’s concourses and ramps, and up stairs between levels. All participants will have the opportunity to circle the field on the warning track and see themselves on the centerfield video board.
After the run/walk, scientists funded by Damon Runyon will be on hand to meet and congratulate participants. Past participants have ranged in age from 5 to 78 years old, hailing from more than 35 states. Last year’s event raised more than $760,000. The Runyon 5K has raised nearly $3 million for cancer research since its inception in 2009.
Loft plans to participate in the Runyon event for as long as she’s able to navigate the 3.1 miles. “I’ll do it until I can’t make it up the stairs any more,’’ she said. “It’s an amazing thing. It’s a very family-friendly event. But I don’t think you’re going to get a whole lot of Mets fans doing it."