Avera Medical Minute: Running for a Cause in the Avera Race Against Cancer

Published: Apr. 10, 2023 at 9:41 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - In just over a month, thousands of people will be running for a cause in the Avera Race Against Cancer. The annual event brings people together to celebrate, honor, and raise funds for those impacted by cancer.

“I was actually diagnosed at age 43, it was a time where they were just changing the guidelines for mammogram screenings for women,” said cancer survivor, Joni Reiffenberger. “I didn’t have any family history, I had no risk factors, no symptoms, but there it was.”

That was back in 2001, now Joni Reiffenberger has been cancer free for nearly 22 years.

One of the ways she celebrates that achievement is by participating in the Avera Race Against Cancer with her team the Pink Panthers.

“I have lots of family, and lots of friends, and I’ve had lots of coworkers over the years and my friends from the gym and then had people I don’t even know sign up on my team,” said Reiffenberger.

“I’ve ran over the years and walked over the years, just depending on what that year will bring but yeah always been a part of the team,” said Joni’s daughter, Pink Panthers team member, Jessie Muth. “We are just so happy that we’re spending this time together and celebrating and so there’s always just that kind of excitement to get started with the race and be able to celebrate what we are there for and to celebrate my mom.”

“I get a lot of encouragement and comradery from my team, I love walking with my team,” said Reiffenberger.

Being a part of a team is just one way people can participate in the Avera Race Against Cancer.

“On any given year we can see anywhere between 125-200 teams sign up, teams can be as many as five people, they can be as many as 200 people, usually about half of our participants form a team or are part of a team so we see it’s a very family based, work based, friend based group that come together, run or walk together,” said Community Giving Manager, Avera Foundation, Elijah Bonde.

The race has been a Sioux Falls staple for over a quarter of a century, with the first one being held in 1988.

“The Junior League of Sioux Falls, one of their members was diagnosed with cancer and they thought let’s do a run or a walk and 35 years later we are still here, that first event had about 200 people, now we look at about 6,000 people every single year,” Bonde said.

And in those 35 years, a significant impact has been made to support cancer services. Plus all funds raised stay local.

“It’s one of the largest fundraisers in the state of South Dakota, on any given year we can raise anywhere between $450,000-$600,000 depending on the year,” said Bonde.

“It’s really a community event and it has evolved and grown and it has done, over the years, so many awesome things to improve cancer care and support cancer patients,” said Reiffenberger.

Not only is race day meant for running and walking, it’s filled with many emotions and even celebrations.

“We do this because of our survivors and because of anybody that’s been diagnosed with cancer and we’re glad to celebrate them and glad to see those tears of joy, and tears of sadness because we are all in this together, and the Avera Race morning proves how important it is to come together and celebrate those we’ve lost and those we still have,” said Bonde.

A special event that can mean even more when you do it with those who support you the most.

“I think we are all hard pressed to find somebody that hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way and so it’s a great event for a great cause and so whether it’s helping to fund things for survivors or people in active cancer treatment or even just preventing cancer that affects all of us, I would encourage everybody to get out and be active and do something proactive about it,” said Muth.

“The spirit of the race is contagious, it is empowering, there’s so much energy on that day and so many emotions flowing, it is an indescribable experience,” said Reiffenberger.

There are plenty of options when it comes to participating in the race, including a 1.5 or 3-mile walk, and a 5K or 10K run. You can also sign up to be a supporter. To learn more just head to www.AveraRace.org.

More on cancer care and services at Avera can be found at www.Avera.org/MedicalMinute.