It was an auspicious beginning for the all-women's race staged at Bettendorf High School in 1990.

The very first Race for the Cure held in the Quad-Cities attracted 1,800 women, some of whom still are annual participants and have fond memories of its origin a quarter-century ago:

Whitney Corrigan of Bettendorf took part. She had moved to this area the year earlier and joined Junior League of the Quad-Cities, one of two sponsors of the original event. 

Her reason was simple: Her husband, Gregg, lost his mother to breast cancer when he was only 11 years old.

"That's why I did the race the first year. I was already a member of Junior League," said Corrigan, who is now executive vice president of the Quad-City Medical Society.

Cathie Whiteside participated. "It was an all-new, all-women's race," the Rock Island resident said. Two years later, she would become the race's co-director along with her husband, Fred, a duty they have shared ever since. 

In fact, the entire Whiteside family has been involved, including the couple's two sons, Jay and Mike.

The late Mary T. Conger raced in that first event, not long after she had been diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer. "She went out and got brand-new shoes for it," her daughter, Christie Brunsvold of Bettendorf, recalled. 

In the 1990s, the Conger family raced because of Mary's illness. She and her daughters, Carrie, as well as Christie, would participate while the daughters' father, Bill, and their brother, Will, worked at the water stops.

Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988, when she was 34 years old. She died in 1996.

"We are very much connected to the race," said Brunsvold, who works at a pharmacy in Eldridge. "I just couldn't ever picture not doing it."

For several years, the family sponsored the Mary T. Conger Memorial Award, given to a person or organization that actively supported a woman with breast cancer.

The 25th anniversary of what now is called the Komen Quad-Cities Race for the Cure begins at 8 a.m. Saturday in Moline. In terms of participants, it is the area's second-largest road race behind only the Quad-City Times Bix 7. 

The race hits the starting line

In 1990, the Race for the Cure was sponsored by what was called St. Luke's Cancer Center, now part of Genesis Health System, and Junior League. 

More than $20,000 was raised, and the money paid for 200 vouchers for mammograms for women who could not otherwise afford them. The care was supplied by Community Health Care Inc., Davenport, and what was then named the Maternal Health Center in Bettendorf. It is now called the Edgerton Women's Health Center and located in Davenport.

The next year, the race moved to Arsenal Island, attracted 2,600 women and tripled the amount of money raised to $63,000.

Some other milestones in the race's history:

• The Arsenal Island location was used from 1991 to 2001, when the race moved to Moline because it had outgrown the island.

"We had been used to no space, and now we had tons of space (in downtown Moline). We got to worrying: Could they find the starting line?" said Whiteside, who is an executive vice president at QCR Holdings Inc. in Moline.

• Men and boys were invited to take part for the first time in 1992 — in the 1-mile family walk. A men's-only 5K race was begun in 1994. That year, 325 men signed up along with 4,000 women, Whiteside said. "Now we have Men in Pink, and more, for the men," she added.

• From 1995 to 2004, Runway for the Cure, a related event sponsored by KWQC-TV, was held in March. At its peak, it attracted 1,200 women on consecutive days for a fashion show fundraiser. A current event is called Stylin' Against Breast Cancer, which is held in April and sponsored by UnityPoint Health-Trinity.

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• The date of the race changed in 1997 from the second Sunday in June to the second Saturday of the month. It was June 14 that year, as it is this year. By then, it had 4,700 participants and raised an estimated $625,000. About 2,000 mammogram vouchers were given to qualified women, and the Honorary Survivor Chair was Charlyne Monroe, the wife of Maj. Gen. James Monroe, a commander on Arsenal Island.

• When the race moved in 2001 to Moline, its start and finish lines were both alongside what was then called The Mark of the Quad-Cities and is now the iWireless Center.

• The race topped 10,000 participants for the first time in 2009.

• In 2010, the race had to be canceled because of a lightning storm. "If it was just rain, we'd go on. But lightning made it unsafe. We were 'all dressed up with nowhere to go,' " Whiteside said, noting that the iWireless Center opened its doors to the waiting crowd, and thousands went inside for a breast cancer education program.

Some longtime participants cite the deep meaning attached to Race for the Cure as a reason they continue to participate.

For Corrigan, the race represents some of her passion for the community. It is a prime example of what Junior League tries to do, she said, which is to bring new projects to the Quad-Cities and eventually turn them over to the community.

She volunteered and helped lead the event for several years. Then, 14 years ago, she also was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2004, she was chosen Honorary Survivor Chair.

For Brunsvold, the race represents part of her late mother's legacy, as well as the importance of watching her own health. Mary T. Conger's daughters are both very aware of the peril posed by breast cancer and get regular checkups. Bill Conger since has remarried, and he and his wife, Sharon, and her children also take part in the Race for the Cure.

"It's just something we do. Every year," Brunsvold said.

The race's magic begins for Whiteside as the event is about to start.

"When you are there that day and see all the survivors ... it's the biggest assembly of strong women you will ever see," she said. "It's a celebration, and there is nothing like it."

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