Bala Cynwyd attorney Andrew Spiegel's reasons for helping found the Colon Cancer Alliance were about as personal as you can get, but thanks in part to a bunch of people running around in their underwear, the nonprofit is also doing an increasingly brisk business in its mission to aid cancer patients.
The CCA will hold its fourth annual Undy 5000 fundraising race (a 5-kilometer run and 1-mile walk) in Philadelphia on Saturday. Spiegel expects about 1,000 participants.
The Gladwyne resident lost both parents two days apart in January 1999—mom to colon cancer, dad to pancreatic cancer. As Spiegel looked for ways to honor his parents' memory, he "found no advocacy group out there for the (colon cancer) patients, because that area of the body was embarrassing to them," he said.
Spiegel sat on the CCA's board of directors from its 1999 founding until he became CEO in 2008. The same year, the alliance began staging fundraising run-walks, with a twist: They would distribute boxer shorts, not T-shirts, for racers to wear.
The young CCA staffer who suggested the move said, as Spiegel recalled, "If we're going to get into that, we need to do something that's different." An underwear theme was part of the attempt to remove any colon-cancer stigma attached to where in the body it affects.
Board members were skeptical, worrying that the underwear might signal a less than serious approach, Spiegel said. A major sponsor pulled out, but eventually returned after seeing the event become increasingly successful.
Three Undy 5000s were held in 2008. Twenty to twenty-two are lined up for 2012, Spiegel said. The races account for about 40 percent of the CCA's revenue, the CEO added, and that figure is growing from $1.8 milliion in 2009-2010 to an estimated $3.5 million in 2010-2011 and as much as $5 million in 2011-2012.
The proceeds go to helping people get colon-cancer screenings, researching for treatments, marketing the CCA's opportunities and lobbying lawmakers, said Spiegel. He'll be among those walking in their underwear Saturday, but he said he wants to get in good enough shape for more: "My goal is to run it next year."
For information about Saturday's race, visit ccalliance.org.