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'Race' Takes the Stage in Push to Help Others

May 7, 2009 By:
Sally Friedman, JE Feature
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There will be no breakfast in bed this Mother's Day for Elaine Grobman. In fact, there will be no bed after 4 a.m., as this woman who has made philanthropy her lifelong career will be on her way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, preparing to greet about 120,000 of her Mother's Day "guests" at the 19th annual Susan G. Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure.

The now iconic event raises funds for breast-cancer research and education.

"Racing" might be a perfect metaphor for the way Grobman, executive director of the Philadelphia Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which oversees the Mother's Day race, has crammed several lifetimes into one, never stopping long in her quest to do good works.

A native of Oxford Circle, she can't recall a time when she wasn't helping others. "It's just always been there, this need and desire to help others," says this daughter of a stay-at-home mother and a shoe-salesman father. "I guess it's a Jewish instinct."

'Found My Home'

When she was newly married to her physician-husband, Sidney, who has since added a law degree to his credentials, the couple lived in rural Bridgeton, N.J. Grobman found her way to the regional Hadassah group, and immediately became involved in its educational arm, working on health-care issues in Israel and America.

Through the years, Grobman, now a resident of Philadelphia, expanded on her own outreach, working through ORT to help build schools in Israel, active in Israel Bond drives, and later, tirelessly seeking funds for AIDS research and support while rearing a son, now a physician, and daughter, now a lawyer.

"When I first learned about the Komen Race for the Cure, I knew I'd truly found my home," she said. "Here was an organization that had the potential to change the lives of thousands and thousands of women."

Grobman has worked for the Komen Foundation for the past 18 years, and has seen the Philadelphia-based group raise more than $12 million from its annual race just since 2001, the year she became executive director.

Her motivation is both global -- the disease is an equal-opportunity one that has come out of the shadows and beyond the whispers in the last two decades -- and deeply personal: "One of my dearest friends in the world died of the disease, and that has never left me."

In 2005, Grobman was selected by the U.S. State Department and the International Visitors Council to represent the foundation on a mission to the former Soviet Union, where she visited remote villages to educate women about the disease. In 2007, Grobman was one of 25 U.S. representatives to the first "Ignite the Promise: Global Advocate Summit" in Budapest, Hungary.

The focus of the summit was to elevate the dialogue on breast cancer's global impact.

The experiences were, in her word, "humbling."

"We are fighting a bigger foe than just in our own little corner of the world," she said. "I was given a chance to reach beyond those usual boundaries."

But for this dedicated woman, it's Philadelphia Race Day -- which involves the organization's 13 area counties and supports their services -- that is an annual high for Grobman.

"There were plenty of skeptics who thought we were crazy to put on a race on Mother's Day," recalled Grobman. "I'll never forget that first year when I stood on the steps of the art museum, wondering whether anyone would show up, even after all of our efforts to publicize it."

Her instincts were right-on. Hundreds came that first time; now thousands do. This year, the race is expected to draw a staggering 120,000 people to the museum area, with survivors and their families ready to walk, race or cheer on the participants.

A "tent city" springs up around the museum, which is closed to traffic all morning. The site even includes a full breakfast tent and children's tent.

Grobman is there long before the sun rises to make sure everything's in place. Her entire family is mobilized to pitch in, with her husband by her side, and her children and grandchildren doing whatever needs to be done.

The highest high moment for Grobman comes when thousands of survivors march down the art museum's famous steps.

"People are cheering, hugging, laughing and crying, and until you experience it, you really can't understand it. It's the most powerful, wonderful thing imaginable -- and for me, the best Mother's Day present in the world!"

The race takes place on Sunday, May 10, from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., at the Philadelphia Museum of Art/Eakins Oval. To learn more, call 215-238-8900 or visit: www. KomenPhiladelphia.org.

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