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Nora McGuire epitomizes Susan G. Komen WNY Race for the Cure

It’s not every day that someone gets a major award named after herself.

Nora McGuire was embarrassed but gladly accepted the honor last month because it gave her the chance to thank others, and bring more awareness to breast cancer prevention and treatment – and the Susan G. Komen Western New York Race for the Cure.

McGuire, 61, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Independent Health, has had a major role in the local races since the event started 15 years ago. She has served either as race chairwoman, Komen Board chair or race operations director in each of those years.

Last month, she received the first Nora McGuire Volunteer Award at the 15th anniversary Celebration Luncheon that kicks off “Race for the Cure season,” which will culminate with the start of the race at 10 a.m. June 13 in the Delaware Park Rose Garden. Register at wny.info-komen.org/race.

“I’m honored, of course, but there are so many people who do so much work,” said McGuire, who has enlisted the help of her husband, Bob, their daughters Katie and Megan and hundreds of others over the years. “I’ve continued to bring in people who are very active and very involved. This award is for all of them, not for me. I’m fortunate it has my name on it, but I will be happier when I’m able to give the award to other volunteers.”

McGuire, of the Town of Tonawanda, holds a nursing degree from the Canisius College program at Sisters Hospital, where she worked in the intensive care unit for about six years before deciding that shift work wasn’t for her. She rose through the ranks at BlueCross BlueShield of WNY during a nearly 30-year span that included going back to Canisius for an MBA. She worked a short stint as an executive recruiter at Performance Partners before she arrived four years ago at Independent Health. Her job at the Amherst-based insurer is similar to most she has had: She looks to help people get and stay healthy.

“The only thing I ever wanted to be my whole life is a nurse,” she said.

Q. Can you talk about your job? How do you spend most of your time?

I’m generally in meetings from 8 to 5 every day, with the nicest people. We spend a lot of time on strategy, understanding what’s happening in terms of the changing (health care) environment, what our customers expect of us, and what we need to do to revise and stay current and provide the best quality care at the lowest possible cost.

There is no one right answer for everyone. The challenge we have is trying to reach as many people as possible. We realize there are many different ways to reach them. Some people, you can do that through benefits. Our nutrition benefit, for example, is one of the ways we want to encourage people and reward them for eating healthy. We reinforce the messaging through our newsletters and other ways. We have programs and partnerships with organizations like the Buffalo Bills and the Health and Wellness Challenge. That has been a huge success. There are Biggest Loser programs, programs with the YMCA, where we offer fitness in the parks to get people out and moving. There’s a variety of different approaches.

Q. You’re also on the WNED Advisory Board and treasurer of the Transplant Miracles Foundation. You’ve been involved with your church, the Girl Scouts and American Cancer Society. Where does the inspiration come from?

I have been so fortunate in my life that I feel it’s my obligation to give back. I want to do that wherever I can make a difference. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I started getting involved in Komen. The reason I did is because I can. I’m in a position to be able to do something, so let’s do it.

Q. Was there something in your life that brought you so passionately into the Race for the Cure?

I have a sister-in-law who had breast cancer and survived it and she has family members who have passed but it was more the timing on being asked (her children were old enough) that appealed to me. Once I recruited so many people, there was no leaving. I brought them along, so I can’t leave them high and dry. … What I’d love to see is more people chairing committees and getting involved on more than just race day. It takes eight months to plan this.

Q. What is your volunteer recruitment strategy?

I generally encourage people to come with friends. It’s more fun when you’re there with family and friends.

Q. Can you talk about why people have volunteered for this race?

We have had many members of our committees who are no longer with us – people who have passed from breast cancer. We’ve had family members who get involved because their wife or mother died from breast cancer. … The most beautiful part of race day is a parade of survivors. At 8:45 a.m., they start beautiful music in the Rose Garden, and there’s a parade of survivors – maybe 700 to 1,000 – who parade across the stage. They get a flower and a hug from the mayor or (Rep.) Brian Higgins or the TV personalities from Channel 2. There are tears flowing for that whole hour while people walk across the stage. Many of them have hats on because they’ve lost their hair, or they’re recovering and going through active treatment. You’ll see lots of people with back signs during the race that are running the race, or walking, in memory of someone who has passed. People are just hugging each other.

So it’s about the fundraising, about the ability to keep the money that we raise – 75 percent of it stays right in our community – but it’s largely about the emotional support that people going through breast cancer feel.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

On the Web: Nora McGuire shares thoughts on the Affordable Care Act and two poignant stories about the Race for the Cure at refresh.buffalonews.com.