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Panerathon makes return

Thousands race through Youngstown to raise funds for breast cancer fight

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Runners start their 10K run from the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown during the 12th annual Panerathon on Sunday morning. Thousands of walkers and runners participated despite the threat of rain.

YOUNGSTOWN — Brenda Henderson is accustomed to being there on behalf of others, so she was shocked and saddened when the script was reversed temporarily for reasons beyond her control.

“I’m the one who takes care of everybody. I’m there for whoever needs me,” Henderson, of Hubbard, said, fighting back tears.

That level of care extends to her mother, those in her church and many others, she added.

The reversal’s cause was a Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis she received in January, which has led to eight rounds of chemotherapy and surgery last week in which 22 lymph nodes were removed and a blood vessel was reattached.

Largely because of her caring attitude, outreach and actions, more than 35 family members, friends and other supporters came together to form “Team Brenda,” one of many that participated in Sunday’s 12th annual Panerathon 10K/2-mile fun run and walk that began and ended at the Covelli Centre, downtown.

Proceeds will benefit the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center, which opened in 2011 in Youngstown and is the only facility of its kind in the Mahoning Valley. Since its inception, the Panerathon has raised more than $3 million for Mercy Health Foundation in support of the breast care center, Candace Madden, Panerathon coordinator, noted.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

More than 130 teams of five or more people of all ages — with names such as “JoJo’s Jugs,” “Barb’s Bunch” and “Drayer’s Physical Therapy” — took part in the event a year after it went virtual last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the funds have been used to set up two breast care center satellite sites, one each in Poland and Columbiana, Madden explained.

Henderson recalled having felt an abnormality under her arm while swimming, an activity she performed several times per week. The timing coincided with her annual checkup before an ultrasound procedure revealed a mass in her breast, Henderson said, adding the result was an aggressive type of cancer.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said about the number of people who have rallied for her. “I’ve had a lot of support through all of my surgeries and chemo. I’m a person who’s not used to that.”

Nevertheless, those who are very used to running include Alan Burns of Boardman, whose 11:24:02 time gave him a first-place finish in the 2-mile walk and run.

“I’ve been running since middle school and in high school,” Burns said, adding he also was on Youngstown State University’s cross-country and track teams.

Competitive running truly is a generational family pursuit for Burns, a sales representative for Zabel’s Restaurant Equipment and Supplies in Youngstown, because he recently qualified for the 125th annual Boston Marathon, which is Oct. 11. When Burns was a few months old, his father, Bruce Burns, ran in the 100th annual Boston Marathon.

“It’s nice to see a crowd back together again,” the younger Burns said in contrasting Sunday’s Panerathon with last year’s.

The route for the 2-mile walkers and runners took them around much of downtown Youngstown; the 10K participants ran through part of the downtown corridor and along a route that largely paralleled Mill Creek Park’s Lake Glacier.

Madden noted major efforts were made to ensure participants’ safety amid the pandemic, including having worked with the Youngstown Health Department. In addition, those at the event were able to receive COVID-19 and flu shots, she said.

Madden added she was grateful to see the large turnout and continued community support for an event that also has raised money for the purchase of a large mobile mammography unit that provides services to many women in the area who may not have had access to such care.

“I’m so excited to see how everybody has come together in such a short time,” said Sam Covelli, owner and operator of Warren-based Covelli Enterprises Inc., which runs more than 315 Panera Bread locations.

Covelli added he was grateful the Panerathon’s numerous sponsors have returned, despite the ongoing health crisis and other challenges. He also expressed hope the event will continue to grow and reach more women with breast cancer, and that he’s pleased with the community support.

“I’m so proud to live in this Valley,” Covelli added.

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