When you have Jillian Michaels firing you up with some starting-line motivation, when the weather is perfect for running and you are hanging out with past greats like Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Paul Molitor, Tim Salmon and Bobby Grich, it is even sweeter.
When you are part of a field of more than 9,000 impassioned runners and personally involved in an official event during Major League Baseball's All-Star Week, you want to lead a movement.
"Let's hear it for you guys for coming out at 7 a.m. on a Sunday to run -- a round of applause for you," exhorted Michaels, the star of "The Biggest Loser" and her new NBC show "Losing It with Jillian." "I have to tell you guys, I'm so honored and so proud to be a part of this.
"I would imagine that if you are here, you've been affected by this disease. I have personally lost loved ones. One of my closest friends, right here in front of me, beat breast cancer this year. I imagine you are running for you and your loved ones and your friends. When we come together, there is nothing we can't do. We will beat this disease. And I'm going to be there every step of the way."
That is how it began at the second annual All-Star Charity 5K and Fun Run sponsored by Sports Authority and Nike, an event that raised more than $200,000 for four charities, including Stand Up To Cancer, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Prostate Cancer Foundation and City of Hope.
Vivien Wadeck, a 31 year-old from North Hollywood, Calif., won the women's 5K for the second consecutive year after posting a time of 17:49. Conor Stanton, an 18-year old from nearby Fullerton, Calif., was the top male finisher in 15:47. Among the men, Mohammad Charara (17, Buena Park, Calif.) finished second in 15:50, and Edgar Griffith (16, Riverside, Calif.) third in 15:53. For the women, Erin Griffith (21, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) finished second in 18:27, and Kenzie Estes (17, Riverside) third in 18:55.
Angels chairman Dennis Kuhl, an active Komen supporter who played a big role in bringing the Midsummer Classic to this fan base, greeted the runners and asked for a show of hands among Angels fans. As many hands predictably went up, he said, "Let's have some fun today."
Then they played John Fogerty's "Centerfield" loud on the speakers and started the runners in waves of glory. The 3.1-mile route wound around the vicinity, and then after Mile 2 brought a special highlight. Fans entered Angel Stadium and ran a full lap around the warning track.
"I think the best part was going into the stadium," said Erin Latham of Anaheim. "I'm a big Angels fan, so it was exciting. We had a friend take a picture of us, and it was cool to get on the Jumbotron. I'm here every week, so to be able to be on the field, it was amazing. And 100 percent of the proceeds went to charity, so it was awesome."
The event began last year in St. Louis as part of the Commissioner's "Going Beyond" initiative, and now it is on track for limitless growth using the reach of a National Pastime for great causes. It is now a tradition for the heads of the charities, along with MLB execs and legendary former players and celebrities, to speak to a captive and restless throng at the start of a great workout.
"MLB takes the fight against cancer very, very seriously," said Tim Brosnan, executive vice president, business for MLB. "We've partnered with these four organizations and many others. Our Commissioner also says that we're a social institution and we really believe in fulfilling our social responsibility. Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs will not stop until cancer is eradicated in our lifetime. We hope you take that memory with you from this event."
Salmon, a former Angels All-Star, was among those involved who helped get it started and then handed out finisher medals personally. Having gone to this "office" day-in and day-out for so many years, he said it was kind of surreal seeing a race like this here.
"I'm not much of a runner, so I'm a little shocked to see this many people excited about running," he said with a laugh. "But I get it. The whole All-Star experience is awesome. That's what having an All-Star Game in Anaheim can do for a whole community, it brings together so many different aspects of it, both in the fan base and the business community and in the charitable community as well.
"The Prostate Cancer Foundation awareness is something that's close to my heart. We lost my grandfather to prostate cancer, so all the males in my family are very much aware of getting the PSA when you turn 40. For men, it's something you have to take seriously, because it's very much preventable, and if you catch it early enough, it's treatable."
Hard against the walls of Disneyland, this is not always about happy endings. This is the inspiration of fighting for those who were struck down by cancer. Others have been sharing their stories in conjunction with this 5K, and here are two such examples:
"I am so proud, on behalf of Major League Baseball, Stand Up To Cancer and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to be here at my first race since Kristen's passing. But my passion lives on, and I know that all of the thousands out there who are racing today have the same passion for finding a cure, for getting the word out, and for making ourselves our No. 1 priority. Have a great race and live on."
"The cause is very special," Gould said. "Almost everyone knows someone who has been touched by cancer, and for me this year it was exceptionally personal. I lost my dad six weeks ago, at the age of 62, to plasma cell leukemia. It was a very hard last six months from his diagnosis to his passing. Just seeing more than 9,000 people all here, collaborating for one cause, is beyond words.
"It's amazing, because you just think when you are running a race like this for such an important cause -- and especially knowing that the others running alongside you are all thinking something similar, that someone they knew and loved deeply have been touched --what a very emotional experience it is over 3.1 miles. I found myself not even paying attention to where I was running. It makes you think."
Numerous representatives of MLBAM joined the field to show support for the noble cause. They included central executive editor Jim Banks, VP, executive producer Jim Jenks, senior producer Brett Kaplan, program director, entertainment Tara Gore, and coordinator, recruiting and events Celeste Bell.
MLB was an original donor for Stand Up To Cancer and the two organizations have gradually elevated their relationship, including this event. Rusty Robertson, co-founder of SU2C, said the 5K turnout "is just another shining example of what Major League Baseball means to communities all over the nation.
"Stand Up To Cancer's main message is one of collaboration, and that certainly is what is happening here today. All of us who have been brought here by MLB, we all can run together with one common goal: our commitment to end cancer in our lifetime. Every one of us has a position to play in the fight against cancer. Working together, all of us can stand up to cancer once and for all."
Michael Milken is founder of Prostate Cancer Foundation and told the crowd some chilling numbers at the start, but hit an optimistic note on research progress and called "Major League Baseball's overall cancer awareness campaign "the greatest program we have in America."
"No family in America is not affected by cancer. One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. ... One in two men overall will get cancer, one in three women," he said. "So when you're watching the All-Star Game on Tuesday on FOX, just think about how much of a difference we've had the last year since the first Charity 5K in St. Louis at the All-Star Game.
"Last year was the greatest year in history for cancer research. Our goal, as it is with all the organizations here today, is in the next five to six years, to make cancer a chronic disease, not a cause of death and suffering."
Dr. John Zaia is deputy director of clinical research for the City of Hope's Comprehensive Cancer Center, and he told the runners: "At City of Hope, our mission is to help our patients, their loved ones and their friends conquer cancer. We do this by groundbreaking research. Today with your participation in this wonderful event, you are part of that mission. Together we will conquer research."
Sue Parks is president elect of the Komen Orange County Affiliate Board of Directors, and she stood at the finish line chute holding an armful of gold medals to give to happy finishers. This is what she had told them 3.1 miles earlier:
"On behalf of my colleagues at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and for the 2.5 million breast cancer survivors and their families in the U.S. today, I want to say thank you to Major League Baseball for their unwavering support of our organization. For both the Honorary Bat Girl program -- and we love those pink bats -- and this event during All-Star Week, the awareness generated by MLB has undoubtedly helped Komen save lives. We know that with every step you take, you're getting us one step closer to the cure."
Those who left the second All-Star Charity 5K and Fun Run left with a positive message, and honestly that is only natural when you have Michaels in your midst. When Union met her for the first time in the VIP area at the start, she was like a "Biggest Loser" contestant.
"I had oatmeal this morning!" she told Michaels enthusiastically. "I felt like I needed to tell you that!"