Detroit, I’m in love with something called “Cupid’s Undie Run.” And it’s not because it involves hundreds of scantily clad people jogging the mile or so past Comerica Park and around Ford Field.
It’s because there is so much behind this effort. Cupid’s Undie Run, which started only in 2010, is on track to raise $1 million this year for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Detroit’s inaugural event, slated for Feb. 9, hopes to raise $50,000 of that lofty total. We’re already more than half way there.
Don’t let the titillating name fool you. This is a serious effort done in a light-hearted and extremely savvy way. Its goal is to both raise awareness of this truly horrible disease known as Neurofibromatosis or NF and to raise enough research dollars to drive it out of existence.
Because if any disease deserved to die, it would be this one.
And not to bury the lead, but one of Detroit’s biggest supporters is giving his all toward Cupid’s Undie Run. Dan Gilbert’s son has NF, and his companies are not only putting their money behind the local event but they are making sure this thing goes national.
Here’s how it works. On event day, hundreds of Detroiters will shed their warm togs somewhere around Cheli’s Chili. They will sprint the 1.25 mile distance between them, said clothing and a bar full of adult beverages. They will then party until who knows when, feeling numb in all the right places.
I talked this week with Bobby Gill, one of the four founders of Cupid’s Undie Run. This volunteer-run organization is based in Washington D.C., and Gill took time from his day job to tell me about why they started the event, why it came to Detroit and what it means to those involved.
Here’s the serious stuff. NF is a genetic disorder that allows tumors to grow on nerves throughout the body. This often leads to blindness, deafness, learning disabilities, cancer and chronic pain. Although it is believed to be under diagnosed, NF still more people than cystic fibrosis, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Huntington’s disease combined.
So you see why Gill hates it so much.
“This is something that’s technically considered a rare disorder because of its frequency. But it occurs in one 3,000 births. Of the rare disorders, it’s one of the more common ones. It’s something that goes misdiagnosed and it’s something that requires our attention. There are children out there that are suffering and there are families out there that are going through really rough times trying to explain what’s happening to their bodies,” Gill said.
The Children’s Tumor Foundation funds research to find treatments for NF with research on several forms of cancer, brain tumors, bone abnormalities and learning disabilities. And 100 percent of what is raised by the Run goes right to CTF.
Cupid’s Undie Run is the result of a conversation between Gill, Brendan Hanrahan, Tamara Forys and Chad Leathers. Leathers’ brother, Drew, had NF and had been hospitalized more than 100 days in 2009. They wanted to create some sort of fund-raising event to support research. The first talks started around the first of the year, so they first looked at creating an event that coincided with a significant holiday. Martin Luther King Jr. and President’s Day both seemed poor choices (come on, you want appliance sales, not underwear competitions, right?).
They figured since they were athletic types, they could get their D.C. friends together for a charity run. So they picked Valentine’s Day as the time frame, sent out some emails to elicit other participants and printed up a few T-shirts. They thought they could maybe drum up 50 or so people to join and raise a couple thousand dollars.
Turned out, 650 people showed up and they pitched in $10k. Yup, this was a winner.
“We had to stop at 650. That was the capacity at the bar. That was all we could handle,” Gill said. “The demand has been huge. We’ve expanded in D.C. to 1,000 runners and a second bar.”
To date, Cupid’s Undie Run has lured about 3,000 people to drop trow and throw a few bucks toward a good deed. This year, with its massive expansion to 16 cities, they expect to have 8,000 runners and up to $1.5 million in donations. Not too shabby for a little non-profit.
“The word got out that it was so much fun. It’s a perfect mix of so many things,” Gill said. It appeals to that key young demographic of 18 to 35 year olds. It’s about love and underwear. It’s fun and it’s socially gratifying.
It also is about kids. Kids don’t need tumors. Or cancer. Or blindness. Or anything even remotely like that. From everything I’ve read this week, Nick Gilbert (Dan Gilbert’s son and an CTF Ambassador) is the kind of guy I’d like my kids to not only hang around with but to mirror his attitude and quick wit. And it should be noted that the Quicken Loans Team that’s running Feb. 9 is raising some serious money for this NF fight.
“Detroit has been a wonderful support system throughout this process. We couldn’t be happier,” Gill said.
Just for the record…you don’t have to be in your underwear if you don’t want to do so. You can wear leggings. You can wear long johns. But you need to sign up by Feb. 8 if you want a spot at the bar. And you have to raise money to win the great prizes – you get Cupid’s undies for donating $25, VIP Open-Bar for $150, Cupid’s bathrobe for $500 or an engraved iPod Nano for going past $1000.
But don’t get all crazy. No nudity. No “50 Shades” stuff. This is a PG-13 event. It’s for the kids, remember?
“We all do this on a volunteer effort in our spare time because we want to make a difference. It’s a great party and a great time,” Gill said. And, “the event we’ve put together has a significant impact toward finding that cure.”