How do you put together a 5K for Charity? Honestly, it’s kind of a marathon.

Chicago, IL - - You need permits and insurance.  You need marketing.  You need volunteers.  You need team leaders and participants.  You need corporate sponsors and individual donors.  You need to organize all logistics, stay in touch with partner foundations, and beg cooperation of Mother Nature.  Then, when the preparation is (finally) over, you still need to run the race.

But what do you need most when organizing DASH for Detection, a large-scale, indoor/outdoor charity 5K, that hosts thousands of dedicated participants and raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for early detection pancreatic cancer research?

For Craig Langer, one of DASH’s two volunteer Chairs tasked with putting everything together, the answer is simple: “More time!”

He laughs.  “I’m kidding,” he claims.  “Well, mostly kidding.”

The Rolfe Foundation’s first DASH for Detection took place in 2011 and was set against the majesty of Chicago’s lakefront.  Working in partnership with the Lustgarden Foundation, and building off the history of their previous Chicago walks, the DASH, as we now know it, was born. The effort was spearheaded by Foundation board members Sheryl Bellick and Lisa Burik; saw nearly 900 runners register, and took in over $200,000 in support of pancreatic cancer research.  It was an instant success.

“The lakefront was overrun with purple!” exclaims founding board member Jim Rolfe and co-chair of DASH 2016.  “From the beginning – yes, the numbers were wonderful, and obviously fundraising is important, but what was an immediately apparent was how wonderful this type of event was as an-awareness raising and community building experience.  That was – and continues to be – unquantifiable.”

Jim was hardly alone in his assessment.  Since its introduction, DASH for Detection has become far and away the Rolfe Foundation’s most popular and successful fundraising event.  In each subsequent year, the DASH has enjoyed gains in attendance, participation and donations (some of which have been quite dramatic).  Yet to echo Jim, beyond the numbers, the real success has been in the sense of palpable joy that seems to permeate the entire proceeding. 

“It’s wonderful on many levels,” observes Lynda Robbins, the Rolfe Foundation’s Executive Director.  “First, by partnering with the Lustgarden Foundation we’ve been able to provide larger grants to institutions doing cutting edge pancreatic cancer research.  And second, there’s the very real sense of community and collaboration.  The impetus for DASH rose out of a desire within the Foundation to put on a truly public event that provides a special day for people to honor and remember their loved ones.”

When you attend a DASH the truth of Lynda's observation is quickly apparent.  The age of participants and on-lookers spans generations, and the multitude of families quickly transforms strangers into fast friends.

“My first time participating in the DASH was 2014,” recalls Craig.  “And last year, 2015, was my first time serving as an organizer and a co-chair (alongside Edie Lisk).  And let me tell you – last year’s DASH...despite being miserably wet and miserably cold – was awesome.”

Lynda, agrees.  “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so much laughter and so many smiles in the midst of so much rain and gloom,” she muses.  “It was amazing.”

And what amazement does DASH 2016 hold in store?  “Two words,” quips Jim:  “Soldier.  Field.”

 “The stadium itself evokes a very real sense of Chicago pride and connection, and the new route [...] is beautiful.  It’s one of the most dynamic landscapes in the city."

What could be more magic, after all, than a day spent within the confines of Chicago’s legendary and historic lakefront landmark?  “We are very excited about Soldier Field,” says Craig.  Not only does the field afford DASH participants some indoor space should weather present an issue, Craig explains, its state-of-the-art amenities also offers the Foundation an entirely new set of opportunities for visibility, sponsorships and partnerships.  “In addition,” continues Craig, “The stadium itself evokes a very real sense of Chicago pride and connection, and the new route, which goes in and out of the building and through the museum campus, is beautiful.  It’s one of the most dynamic landscapes in the city.  It’s going to be wonderful.”

As the race itself draws near, both Jim, a Managing Director of Commercial Banking at The Private Bank, and Craig, a sales manager and team leader at Veritas Technologies, continue to carve time for DASH, and remain hard at work, determined to ensure the event’s success.   They solicit more sponsors, enlist new teams and double and triple check the event’s many logistical requirements. 

When asked how the checklist and list of needs stands, Craig is confident and excited:

“The thing about more time - that really was a joke.  I mean, yes, there’s a lot to do, but I’ve improved on my process from last year, Jim is a tremendous help, and it’s obvious how much the Foundation – the staff, the board members – how much better everyone gets at this every year.  We have all the ingredients this year to take another jump.  It’s going to feel like a new event, I think.  And I enjoy this work, all of it.  Giving back, taking the opportunity to help improve a really horrible, unfair problem, I find it indescribably meaningful. 

“The only thing I’d use extra time for is to be selfish; I’d want to spend it enjoying this whole experience just a little bit more.”

Published: March 15th, 2016

                                              Want to be a part of DASH for Detection 2016?  You can!
                               Click below to support a team, field your own squad, or further explore the event.


                               This article also appears as part of the Rolfe Pancreatic Cancer Foundation’s
                            electronic newsletter, The Catalyst (Vol. 2, March 2015 – the profiles issue). To
                                 read more dispatches from
The Catalyst, please explore the links below.