Katy Gilliam and her fundraising group, the Pink Pacers, coordinate the family-friendly Get Heeled 5K that was recently awarded the “Best 5K in the Triangle” by Endurance Magazine.

Gilliam FamilyIt’s easy to spot Katy Gilliam and her fellow Pink Pacers at any event – simply look for pink tutus. Why tutus? According to Katy, “A tutu makes everything better.” Tutus, glitter and a whimsical approach to fundraising distinguish the Pink Pacers from other UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center volunteers.

Katy and her fundraising group, the Pink Pacers, coordinate the family-friendly Get Heeled 5K that was recently awarded the “Best 5K in the Triangle” by Endurance Magazine. With almost 1,000 participants at the 2012 walk-run event, the 2013 race is destined to set new records for this group, who has cumulatively raised more than $100,000 for UNC Lineberger.

It all started seven years ago when Katy first took part in a national breast cancer walk. For Katy, supporting cancer patients, survivors, and honoring loved ones through a fundraising walk was a life-changing experience. In 2009, after realizing how much money they raised for the national organization, Katy and others on her team decided to change their focus to UNC Lineberger and make an impact locally.

“We wanted an event where our families and our children could be involved and where we could make a direct impact on our community with 100 percent of the funds we raised. UNC Lineberger had the programs we wanted to support,” said Katy. And, the Get Heeled 5K was born.

The Pink Pacers initially raised funds for the UNC Lineberger Get REAL and Heel Program that provides healthy living, exercise, stress management and mind-body coaching for breast cancer survivors. Over time, however, their efforts shifted to UNC Pediatric Oncology, specifically programs for patient and family supportive care services.

“Our events became more family-centered,” Katy explained. “As we worked with Lineberger and the community, we learned about more and more children going through treatment at UNC, and we began going to the clinic. Working with pediatric oncologists like Dr. Stuart Gold and Dr. Julie Blatt has been an amazing experience.”

The Pink Pacers are very active and plan a number of events throughout the year, including the Get Heeled 5K, a Gymnastics Day with UNC Gymnastics Coach Derek Galvin and the team, a shop-for-a-cause night at Southern Season, and a host of others at UNC and in the Triangle.

Even armed with pink tutus, putting on all of these events was challenging at first. “We’re not trained to do this,” Katy said. “I’m a coach, Brooke Bowersox is a teacher, Carrie Gilmore previously worked at Student Affairs for UNC, and Mike Cashion is a salesperson. Our spouses and families are big supporters and helpers. With our families and friends and people who really care about the community, we get it done.”

Katy’s passion for supporting young cancer patients and their families is contagious, and so is her enthusiasm for volunteering. “It’s about an experience wrapped around active living and giving back to the community. We’re here to have fun.”

Katy serves on the new Advisory Board for the UNC Pediatric Oncology Program, where she is helping them to organize their first survivor day event. She and her husband, Dave, live in Chapel Hill with their son, Scott, and daughter Anna.

Learn more about the Pink Pacers and this year’s Get Heeled 5K on Saturday, September 14: www.getheeled5k.com.