It started, like many good ideas, seemingly out of nowhere.
Mary Ann Edwards had an “insane” idea to create an event. After six years as a volunteer run director for a national organization, the Brock University grad (BPhEd ’76, BEd ’77) wanted to do something on her own. She wanted to raise money for immediate cancer care and keep it in the region where she grew up, went to school and settled down.
It was an idle idea, the kind that would have been easy to dismiss as too hard, too expensive, too consuming.
“I had a group of friends who said, ‘if you’re going to do it, we’re going to stand beside you,'” Edwards said during an interview this summer.
Nine years later, thousands have decided to stand – and run – with Edwards, whose Rankin Cancer Run has raised millions for Niagara hospitals.
The Brock University Alumni Association recognized Edwards by making her its 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award winner. She was presented with the award Saturday, Sept. 20 along with other Faculty award winners during Homecoming festivities. More than 1,000 alumni and friends returned to help Brock celebrate its 50th anniversary.
“There’s just millions and millions and millions of volunteers anywhere,” Edwards said. “That’s not an exaggeration. There are tons of unpaid people who are helping.
“It’s a wonderful honour, but I’m embarrassed. Anybody but me is what I would prefer. I want to be one of the pack.”
Edwards prefers to blend in with the crowd. The run wouldn’t be where it is without a small army of volunteers, a committee, and Tom Rankin, whose financial backing from the start allowed the idea to grow. Edwards believes no other business (Tom owns Rankin Construction) would have put its money into her idea.
“Many times I was told this is a giant risk and there’s a really good chance you will fail, and we don’t want to be connected,” she said. “Tom took that risk and it was fantastic. He believed in something that wasn’t really there aside from spinning around in that gerbil wheel in my head.
“He was willing to help big time, and he did.”
For the first run in 2006, Edwards wanted to at least break even. The event might not have made money, but she was hoping it would catch on soon enough. Instead, 3,000 runners showed up.
“I was hoping for 50,” she said. “It’s grassroots. The majority of people didn’t know we existed.”
This year’s run raised an unprecedented $750,000 to support cancer initiatives in Niagara. Edwards, her 10-person committee and 150 volunteers helped make the event a financial and logistical success. Next year is the 10th anniversary, and the run will likely surpass $5 million in total money raised.
“For people to find out about us, it’s been pretty awesome. We’re grateful.”
Other award winners included:
Sukhdeep Kaur Chohan (MEd ’06): 2014 Faculty of Education Distinguished Alumni Award
Gary Schrobilgen (MSc ’71): 2014 Faculty of Mathematics & Science Distinguished Alumni Award
Wendy Ingram (BA ’67): 2014 Faulty of Humanities Distinguished Alumni Award
Mary Ann Edwards (BPhEd ’76, BEd ’77): Brock University Alumni Association 2014 Distinguished Alumna
Anne-Marie Robinson (BSc ’87, BBA ’90): 2013 Goodman School of Business Distinguished Alumni Award
Martine Foronoville (BEd ’04, MEd ’12): 2014 Faculty of Education Distinguished Alumni Award