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INTERVIEW: Julie Ratner On The Camaraderie Of Ellen’s Run, Bringing The Community Together, And More

Nicole Barylski

Last year's race. (Photo: Lenny Stucker)

The 23rd iteration of Ellen's Run, the signature fundraising event of The Ellen Hermanson Foundation, will take place on Sunday, August 19.

We recently caught up with Julie Ratner, co-founder and chairwoman of The Ellen Hermanson Foundation, about the race, which was named in memory of her sister, Ellen, who died in 1995 of breast cancer at the age of 42.

Those that have never been might not be aware of the event's incredible camaraderie. Could you speak a bit about that?

JR: I think someone who has never been is in for a surprise because the camaraderie is what I think is what really sets Ellen's Run apart. There's a special feeling because of the breast cancer survivors who are there to celebrate. So many people that come are family members of survivors and they're there to celebrate. You certainly have your serious runners who are there and add an air of excitement. There's great activity inside of Parrish Hall, high, high energy as people come in - either to pick up their numbers and t-shirt or to register for the run, there's a huge flurry of activity between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning. Then there's the DJ playing his fabulous music that really makes you want to move and the warm-up exercises. I would say everyone is incredibly friendly, really, really friendly because everyone who is there wants to be there.

And the race really attracts all ages.

JR: We have from young to super old. I see all the applications because I register them and there are some in their mid-eighties. I like that it's cross generation because there's a lot to learn from each other. Also, breast cancer strikes women of all ages and some men. Unfortunately I've seen younger and younger women being diagnosed, as well as older women. The community of breast cancer survivors cuts across race, age, ethnicity, all of those variables that we use to identify people, which would probably be better if we didn't most of the time, because it's a common bond that brings people together with the stories they tell, with the wisdom these women can share with each other. Whether it's little tricks on how to deal with an uncomfortable situation, how to deal with some sort of a pain, the stuff that you and I wouldn't think about, but if you're on chemotherapy and your body isn't really yours at the moment, it's nice to get tips and pointers from someone that's been there before you and could lend you a hand.

For you personally, what does it mean to see all these inspiring survivors come together to support Ellen's Run?

JR: That's an interesting question and I'm having a hard time answering it because I approach this day on so many levels. To do this means I've carried on, in a way, the legacy that Ellen left for me. It means I watch it and see all these women that are so lucky because they survived. They're there together and out to celebrate their health, to support each other, and it's not only that they survived, they're thriving. I'm focusing on women because we have so few men who come. I know that there are men breast cancer survivors, but in 23 years we've only had two males who have come to our event as breast cancer survivors. To see women come who are not surviving, but really thriving in all their vibrancy, and toughness and feistiness and camaraderie and love of being there, it's quite joyous and it feels wonderful to know that I have been a part of this and I have maybe played some small role in helping women and their families get through this terrible, horrible disease - because breast cancer when it happens becomes a family event. Very often the women is the head of the household, the one who whether or not she has a partner holds the house together and does so much that makes families run - and when she's not able to function at her best level, everyone feels it. The other reason that it's a family event is because to get through a disease like breast cancer, you need support. It's very difficult to do it alone and everyone has their role to play.

What will funding from Ellen's Run support?

JR: First of all, I want to stress that we keep the money - whether it's at Ellen's Run, at our Gala, at Denim & Diamonds, whatever we do out here in this community, our money stays here in this community because we know that the need is great. This Foundation will not change the world, but we can have a very strong impact on the lives of people that live in this community and we have. Just look at the Breast Center, the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center in Hampton Bays and Stony Brook and the access to care. The level of technology and care that one would get here is as good if not better than what you would find at an academic medical center in a large city. I'm so proud of that.

So what we will fund, our mission is to always ensure access to state of the arts quality breast health care and access to that means being able to have mammograms in a state of the arts facility with highly trained doctors and the best possible equipment available because you can have the best doctors, but if you don't have equipment that's terrific, you can't get the best service. It's like having the best pilot in a broken down plane. So we're always about access.

The other part of our mission and access and care is psychosocial support. To go back to what I said before and research actually supports the importance of psychosocial support in terms of reducing stress and anxiety. That has a qualitatively positive effect on the body. So we will be funding the Ellen's Well where we have a full-time oncological social worker who facilitates groups for women that were newly diagnosed, women who are much sicker with metastatic disease and ongoing wellness, who is also available basically day or night to take individual calls from people who are in distress. In a very real serious way, she is a lifesaver because she's able to talk people down, talk people back, talk them into a better place, help them find a better place. I cannot stress enough how important that is. We also have other programs like a Day of Hope and Renewal, a weekend retreat, all kinds of programs that are designed to improve one's coping ability.

Is there anything new this year?

JR: We have some new vendors. We have a new frozen ice vendor, Kona. We have our usual bagels and all that. In terms of what's new, I think we have our race down pat. As someone who was a serious runner, runners come, they want the race to go off on time, they want to get their packets, they want to be organized, they want great music for great energy - it gets you all hopped up and ready so you're sort of chomping at the bit to go. From that perspective, it's pretty much the same. We have it down to a really great routine.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

JR: Because we're a community organization, I love when the community turns out. I hope that people come and see this fabulous event for themselves. I guarantee anyone who comes will have a very wonderful morning, and if they're a good runner, they might win a medal or trophy.

The 5k (3.1-mile) race starts from Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's Parrish Memorial Hall. There is a 9 a.m. start time and Ellen's Run will take place rain or shine. The entry fee ranges from $25 to $45.

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's Parrish Memorial Hall is located at 265 Herrick Road in Southampton. For more information, visit www.ellenhermanson.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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