JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It is one of the biggest events on our First Coast. Thousands of runners and volunteers get together every year to run and raise money to finish off breast cancer. The DONNA Marathon draws people from all over the world and helps raise 90% of the revenue for the DONNA Foundation, which has already helped more than 13,000 women through breast cancer.
But can the marathon go on as planned on Valentine's Day, 2021?
"I wouldn't be telling you the truth if I didn't say it keeps me up at night," says Amanda Napolitano, executive director of The DONNA Foundation.
She's worried because the marathon is packed with breast cancer patients and survivors, people who especially can't take the risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
But nobody has a crystal ball. What will the picture of COVID-19 look like early next year?
For certain, marathon organizers need to make a tough decision way before then.
"We need to decide this summer," Napolitano says.
The team, she says, is brainstorming and looking for options "outside the box."
No matter what, she says, "There will be a DONNA Marathon weekend and we'll turn the town pink."
Napolitano says her team has looked closely at a new survey from the Road Runners Club of America. More than 10,000 runners responded to a question about if they would run in a community event in 2020.
"It was about half and half," she says. The survey found 53% said YES and 47% said NO or UNSURE.
How would runners feel at the beginning of 2021? Impossible to know now.
On top of that, Mayo Clinic's expert on disease prevention, Dr. Gregory Poland, says social distancing is a different prospect for runners. He says six feet of distance is not nearly enough. "You would need at least 30 feet," he says, because the runner ahead of you is "exhaling very hard and very rapidly and you're right there inhaling that."
Napolitano says she's encouraged that other communities are seeing success with virtual events. In fact, people now are joining on Facebook what's called the DONNA Virtual Runners group. You run on your own, collect pledges, and the DONNA Foundation "ships you the famous DONNA medals," she explains.
You can accumulate your miles to add up to a half or whole marathon.
Napolitano believes the First Coast will come together to follow "LOVE, NOT FEAR," even if the marathon -- as we know it -- has to be canceled and transformed into something else come Valentine's weekend 2021.