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Run for ovarian cancer research keeps participants on their toes

Jessie Petit of Grand Island didn't have a difficult time finding a pair of heels that fit his feet.

"I just walked into Payless and bought these," he said, pointing to his black stilettos trimmed with a large bow at the toe.

"I did get judged by a customer," he said. "He judged me pretty hard."

Petit was among about 450 competitors -- about 40 of them men -- to compete Wednesday in the fifth annual Stiletto "Run," a half-kilometer race in which runners wear high-heeled and other fun shoes.

Proceeds for the race, which took place on Elmwood Avenue between Bidwell Parkway and Auburn Avenue, benefit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. About $10,000 was raised for the organization during the event.

In order for the runners to be eligible for prizes, they had to both register and complete the race in a shoe with a minimum heel height of 3 inches, and a maximum circumference of 1.25 inch in diameter.

"We hope to raise awareness and fun for the alliance," said Colleen Bready, the event's volunteer coordinator. "It's a blast and a good time -- and sometimes gets competitive."

Screams and shouts filled the air as families and employees of Elmwood businesses cheered on the racers, many of whom wore brightly colored shoes and elaborate costumes as they pressed on through the 80-degree heat.

Susan Bratek, a participant from Lancaster, walked in the race this year for the first time. She wore a brand-new pair of 5-inch heels that she planned on breaking in during the race.

Competition for Bratek was secondary.

"I'm just really interested to see what shoes everyone is wearing," she said.

Christine Robertson of Williamsville spent six hours decorating her heels, which were bright blue and bedazzled with the Buffalo Bills mascot and the words "Let's go Buffalo."

"I'm a huge Bills fan, and thought I'd have the shoes reflect that theme," she said.

Co-workers Wendy Neimic, Stacy Bax, Lisa Wende, Tracey Palmeri and Kristin McIvor had looked forward to the race for a long time, and prepared by ordering matching heels online. The shoes arrived the morning of the race.

Cynthia Reyes of Buffalo, a stiletto enthusiast, was especially excited for the race. Reyes only wears stilettos and has a tattoo of heels above her ankle. She said she owns about 50 or 60 pairs of stilettos.

"I actually just cleared out a spare room for them all," she said. "If I'm sad, I go out and buy stilettos. If I'm mad, I go out and buy stilettos."

Once they reached the finish line, winners were announced at an after-party in the parking lot of the Lexington Co-Op.

Kate Hannon came in first place, followed by Melina Buck. Jacob Marsh, sporting a pair of 5-inch black leather heels, placed first for men. Robertson, the woman with the Bills heels, won the award for best shoes.

It is predicted that about 22,280 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in 2012, and 15,500 women will die of the disease this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

"It's the deadliest cancer for females," said Chrystine Tedeschi, regional coordinator of SHARE's Ovarian Cancer Hotline and survivor. "It's got a five-year survival rate, and not enough of us survive long-term."

Jen Sajdak and her family and friends, 18 people altogether, participated in the race and wore shirts with the phrase "DTF" on them, or "Down to Fight." Sajdak lost her mother, Barbara, six years ago to ovarian cancer, and her aunt Bonnie three years ago.

"We're here to support them. We do it for them," she said. "It's fun, and it's really so, so worth it."