Pugh connects with Komen Race

Merlyn Pugh, 87, of Yankton recently participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Vermillion. A kidney cancer survivor himself, Pugh beat his time from last year in support of the fight against breast cancer. He is pictured with, from left: daughter Colleen VanLoh; his wife, Jane; a granddaughter, Lyndsey Abbott; and his daughter, Colette Abbott. (Photo by David Lias)

When 87-year-old Merlyn Pugh of Yankton crossed the finish line in last month's Susan G. Komen South Dakota Race for the Cure in Vermillion, it didn't matter to him that he had topped his time from the previous year.

"The personal satisfaction was there, but the time didn't matter. It was mainly to support the cause," he said. "I like to help anyone and everyone, and that's what this is all about."

While Pugh didn't think his time was important, others weren't as quick to dismiss it.

"When you're 87 years old and you can beat your time from the previous year, I think that in itself makes a statement about you," said Pauline Rhoades, a friend of Pugh who is also involved with the Race for the Cure. "He's dedicated. He champions the cause for breast cancer, and he's an inspiration to all of us."

Pugh, who has participated in the race for the past three years, first got involved through a family connection.

"I became interested because my wife Jane was chairman of the volunteers and my daughter, Colette Abbott, Vermillion, is chairman of the race," he said. "And I also have five daughters, one daughter-in-law, nine granddaughters and three great-granddaughters. So needless to say, I was willing to do whatever I could."

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Series is the largest series of 5K runs/fitness walks in the world, according to the race's website. It raises significant funds and awareness for the fight against breast cancer, celebrates breast cancer survivorship and honors those who have lost their battle with the disease.

This is the fourth year the Komen South Dakota Affiliate has hosted the race, which was held at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. Up to 75 percent of the funds raised at the race remain in South Dakota to provide breast health research, diagnostics, screening, treatment, services and education for uninsured or underinsured women. The remaining 25 percent goes to fund national research to discover the causes of breast cancer and, ultimately, its cures.

"It's really a good thing," Pugh said. "They raise a lot of money, and most of it stays in South Dakota."

The event also does an incredible job of raising breast cancer awareness, he said.

"The Komen effort is outstanding," he said. "You have 2,000 to 2,500 participating in the race, and many volunteers assisting. It's quite a production."

Pugh added that he was impressed with the amount of work done by those involved with the race.

"I think it's very well put together, even though I admit that I'm prejudiced because my wife and my daughter have a lot do to with it," he said with a laugh. "There's so much more to it than you would think. They honor the survivors of breast cancer, they have to go out and get sponsors, and so on. There's a lot of work involved."

To get ready for the race, Pugh put in some work as well.

"I go to the wellness center daily. I've been going since about two months prior to this race," he said. "I didn't want to embarrass myself, so I went up there to walk the treadmill. I guess I had my own health in mind, too."

That health was in question in 1995 when Pugh was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He underwent surgery at Avera Sacred Heat Hospital in Yankton, and doctors were able to find and remove all the cancer.

"I was very fortunate," he said. "A lot of people don't make it with that kind of cancer."

Pugh said his experience gave him empathy for others battling similar diseases, something that was constantly on his mind as he participated in the Race for the Cure.

"You look around you and see people you personally know who are in recovery, and you see all the survivors walking," he said. "I defy anyone not to be moved greatly by seeing that."

While Pugh was satisfied with his performance in this year's event, he didn't rule out racing again.

"At my age, you never know how many races you're going to be in," he said. "But if my health lets me, I definitely will participate again."

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