Ellen’s Run’s Bittersweet 20th Anniversary August 16

Ellen Hermanson
Ellen Hermanson, Photo: Courtesy Julie Ratner

Sunday, August 16 will mark the 20th anniversary of Ellen’s Run, an annual race and walk leading the fight against breast cancer on the East End. The run, sponsored by The Ellen Hermanson Foundation, is a community celebration of life.

“It all began the year after my sister Ellen died,” says Julie Ratner, the creator of Ellen’s Run and the chair of the Ellen Hermanson Foundation. Ratner remembers creating the first Ellen’s Run, a small, local fundraiser, for two reasons: “to continue the work that was so important to Ellen in her lifetime and to do something for her memory to live on for
her daughter, who was only six years old when she died.”

Ellen Hermanson was a remarkable warrior in the fight against breast cancer, both in her own personal journey and as an activist in curing the disease. Diagnosed in 1989, Hermanson was only in her 30s when her battle with breast cancer began, still nursing her newborn daughter. After six years of passionate writing and strong advocacy for progress in research, Hermanson passed away in 1995, leaving behind a newfound passion in her sister.

Ratner organized the first Ellen’s Run in 1996 with few expectations. “We didn’t have a mission or direction,” she says. “I had no idea we’d be around 20 years later.” But the large turnout and success of the event sparked an enormous movement on the East End, headed by Ratner.

Within the following year, Ratner started the Ellen Hermanson Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds educational outreach and early detection for under-served communities of women, psychosocial support for breast cancer survivors and their families on Eastern Long Island and the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center at Southampton Hospital.

The Foundation built Southampton Hospital’s Breast Center in 2009, seeking to address one major goal: “Women on the East End should be able to receive the same care as someone in New York going to an academic medical center. That level of service should be in our community,” Ratner says.

East End breast cancer diagnosis and mortality rates are among the highest in the state. For this reason, the presence of a truly local foundation like the Ellen Hermanson Foundation is crucial for women’s health. “We keep our money in the Hamptons,” Ratner explains. “Other organizations come out here to raise money. We commit to the Hamptons. Where we raise the money is where the money stays.”

But the impact that Ellen’s Run has on the East End community goes far beyond fundraising. “Ellen cared deeply about research and finding a cure, but also she understood from her own experience that it takes more than research to battle breast cancer—it takes a community and support.”

Ratner reflects on her relationship with her sister, remembering that despite how close they were, she could not offer the support that Hermanson needed, and that it could only come from the breast cancer community. “She said,” Ratner recalls, “‘that as close as we are, you don’t get what it’s like to live with this, to walk in these shoes.’ She needed the community where everyone was in the same boat. They could support each other with understanding.”

Meeting this need, The Foundation also funds Ellen’s Well, a network of support groups and free psychological and oncological social workers, to support women on the East End who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. Ellen’s Run, too, is the foundation’s major event for bringing the community together.

Ellen’s Run starts and ends at Southampton Hospital’s Parrish Hall on Herrick Road. The 3.1-mile course runs through town, down tree- and mansion-lined roads, along the ocean-side blocks and back. The race is rain or shine.

“Every year there are wonderful memories,” Ratner says. “What makes it wonderful is that I know people are benefitting because Ellen lived on this earth. The sadness of her not being here lives alongside the great joy of doing this event and helping people.” 

For more information and to register for Ellen’s Run, visit ellensrun.org.

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