Free to Breathe Lung Cancer 5K Run/Walk

On Saturday, September 8, 2012 Dickman Mill Park located at 2432 Ruston Way Tacoma, WA 98407 will have the Free to Breathe 5K Run/Walk. It is a USAT&F certified 5K course. Registration fees/deadlines are as follows: $30 per person if you register online by September 5, 2012, $33 per person for mail-in entries which must be received by September 3, 2012, and $35 per person the day of the event (registration begins at 7:30 am). Long sleeve t-shirts will be provided to participants, but on a first come, first serve basis (those that register online or via mail are more likely to secure a shirt, versus waiting until event day). To register, please visit:

Event details are as follows: 9:00 am the 5K run begins, 9:05 am the 5K walk begins, 9:15 am the 1 mile walk begins, and 10:00 am the fundraising/race awards, speakers, and prize drawings take place. All registered participants will be eligible to win prizes in which they must be present to win.

Julie Drobny, local event organizer for Free to Breathe Tacoma, explained a little bit about the organization, “Free to Breathe is the physical fitness event part of the National Lung Cancer Partnership about advocacy and building awareness; a place to get involved. If you know someone with lung cancer, you can get information and facts. The money we raise for the National Lung Cancer Partnership directly supports its research, education and awareness programs. In some cases, you can be an advocate and there are a whole list of opportunities to get involved by visiting: and clicking on the “Get Involved” link.”

Julie explained why she ensured Tacoma had a Free to Breathe event, “My mom was diagnosed was with lung cancer in 2005. She just retired and was a healthy active woman. When she found out she had pneumonia, she also found out she had stage 4 lung cancer and there was really no cure. You’re now in a race to save your life and you feel powerless (the person diagnosed) and as a daughter. It’s shocking to the family and anyone, especially if you’re a non-smoker. She’s healthy how can she get this? The National Lung Cancer Partnership is as resource for people like my mom and I to be able to get information such as: what doctor should she go to? What treatment should she receive? What are your chances of getting lung cancer? My mom lived 4 years after being diagnosed, which is unheard of for stage 4 lung cancer. We have a long ways to go with saving lives and extending lives. With the Partnership, people feel like they have some power.

The reason I organized the 5K was because I knew people like to run. I thought what could I do to fundraise? My friends and I said let’s do a run and we had over 100 people the first year.

I went to an event in Chicago for the National Lung Cancer summit and they had 2 to 3 Free to Breathe events on the East coast and none in Washington. Free to Breathe is what they called these events. The partnership provides me with materials and insurance and I work with the city to get set it up. The National Lung Cancer Partnership manages the website and registration. I get sponsors and volunteers to participate. My set up and take down team meet up at 6 am and we set up tents and have onsite registration. We handle the money the day of the event for anybody that wants to register. I also try to get vendors to come.”

When asked what she learned about lung cancer, Julie shared, “If you have lungs, you’re at risk for lung cancer; that is the number one thing that I learned. Lung cancer is not a death sentence like it was in the past, there is hope. Women are getting lung cancer at a younger age when they are in their 30s and 40s, at a more alarming rate than men. There is a stigma attached about smoking, but people who don’t smoke get lung cancer. There shouldn’t be that direct correlation given you smoke for the increases. All of us support it, meaning if you did smoke or quit and you get lung cancer you still should have somebody who’s willing to cure it or take care of you. You didn’t do something and deserve it. Everyone deserves someone to be on their side regardless of how you got the lung cancer.

Why do I keep doing this a lot of people ask? My uncle passed away from lung cancer, too. It has impacted people I’ve met and known and I’ve seen returning participants that have had it. Seeing survivors come to this event shows we’re making a difference where in the beginning there were no survivors.

A lot of people that are survivors or someone they know come to this event and it’s the community sharing with other people their like experience.”

Julie discussed how this walk is unique compared to others: “A couple of reasons: 1. I try to make it fun and we have upbeat and really good rock music that we play. 2. It is a really good atmosphere. At the end of the event medals and awards are given and there are drawings. We had about 13 or 14 cool giveaways and one giveaway was a motel stay on the waterfront; so cool gifts. This is something for a beginner as well (someone that’s never been to this event). What I hear and see from our surveys is that it’s an easy and nice course that’s really pretty. People feel like they’ve come and done something for a good cause and also feel like they won something. We give out long-sleeve t-shirts versus regular t-shirts and the event doesn’t take up your whole day; by noon you’re heading home.”

Julie has raised over $20,000 the first year and for the past five years she’s close to her $100,000 goal because that’s how much it costs to do a research grant. Julie stated: “It’s a community coming together and you can make a difference. I really didn’t expect many people the first year when King 5 news interviewed my mom and I. They aired us on television the morning of the event and people came out. 120 to 130 people showed up, it’s a very close knit community.”

When asked the best thing about the event, Julie replied, “The National Lung Cancer Partnership sends staff out to the events. This year, Susan Medley-Gerber, a survivor, should be here. We always open the event up with a talk about lung cancer and she comes and talks. She makes personal connections with other people who are suffering with lung cancer or are caregivers for people with lung cancer. I’ve seen people’s lives been extended based on the fundraising for this walk and other walks generate awareness. Research money is critical.

Free to Breathe has grown in last 5 years across the country from 2 events to over 35 events across the nation with increased survivors.”

Julie recommends the following people to come to the event: “Definitely anyone who has been affected by lung cancer. Last year we had a daughter that came out for her dad that died. And in some cases anybody who wants to participate in a real community event and know that they’re making a difference. It’s kinda fun because every year something unique happens at these events. For example, a 25-year survivor that discovered he had lung cancer when he had broken his shoulder on the job during surgery and he came out since he hadn’t seen any other lung cancer events to support. People travel to attend the event as well.”

For more information, please visit: “People don’t have to come to the event to donate; they can donate to a team, anonymously, or be a sponsor. I’ve had a couple stores give me a gift certificate to support the event. We also have a Free to Breathe Facebook page,” Julie concluded.

By: Carly Calabrese, staff for

7 thoughts on “Free to Breathe Lung Cancer 5K Run/Walk”

  1. I may just go to this. However I think I’ll walk. You know Carly you’re good at finding events like this. I’m sure the organizers, community and the people who benefit from this appreciates your hard work.

    1. Thanks Bob. This is my most favorite job that I’ve ever had. I love it. How many people can actually say they love their jobs and really mean it? Not many.

      1. It shows Carly. With your postings, thoughtful interviews and insight. The research you’ve done and how you write your articles. I see many people on here the like what you do. I’m a fan of course. Keep up the great work.

  2. Thank You Carly. The Free to Breathe event in Tacoma has become very important and inspirational to many people.

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