Grown men in nothing but tighty whities and tube socks. Lovely ladies braving the Valentine’s Day chill in lingerie and knit beanies. Trotting along the waterfront, down to the Dali and back up to the raucous bars on Central Avenue, the first annual St. Petersburg Cupid’s Undie Run was truly a sight to behold.
And thanks to a charmingly persuasive race director – Eden Isle resident Katherine Zehr – the fun and festive event raised a whopping $65,000 for the Children’s Tumor Foundation, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for NF (neurofibromatosis). Though still relatively low profile, the tumor-generating genetic disorder is more common than muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis combined.
The cause is wildly important to Katherine and her husband Jeremy for one adorable, 7-year-old reason: their daughter Clara, who has struggled with NF since infancy. One of three Zehr girls (alongside Isabella, 10, and Norah, 4), Clara has become a pint-sized fixture on the local NF circuit, a tiny beacon of hope popping up at events all over Florida.
But, since Clara is a few years away from getting her driver’s license, she still needs Mom and Dad to help her make the scene of various Children’s Tumor Foundation (CTF) outings. And do they ever. In addition to Cupid’s, the Zehrs are involved with the NF Endurance Team and the Florida Ironman, which designated CTF as its 2015 featured charity partner.
Jeremy, a psychologist with a private practice in St. Pete, has participated as an endurance team athlete, as have Isabella and Clara. And for the most recent Florida Ironman, Clara played a major role. Any athlete who competed on behalf of CTF was paired with a ‘hero’ – a child diagnosed with neurofibromatosis. Happily, Clara was the official hero for 2015, with 45 athletes competing in her name. The Zehrs later traveled to Panama City Beach to meet some of these super-fit dudes at the celebration banquet, where a video starring Clara was played for hundreds in attendance.
“We form great relationships with many of the athletes,” Katherine notes. “In fact, one sent Clara his finisher’s medal with an engraving on the back.”
Yes, there’s lots of activity on the NF front. But Katherine’s main focus is Cupid’s. In fact, it weren’t for her efforts, there wouldn’t even be a St. Pete version of the race.
In 2014, after catching a Today Show segment about the run, which is national in scope, she set her sights on bringing it here. “At that time, Orlando was the nearest location with a run,” she recalls. “So along with some friends, we went there, did the run, and knew we needed this in St. Pete. We filled out the application, made a fun video showing why St. Pete would be a perfect fit, and did an online interview. Out of 120 cities, only 8 were chosen, and one of those was us!”
While last year’s run attracted 400 participants (including a Calvin Klein boxer/briefs-clad Yours Truly… brrrrr…), Katherine is expecting that total to climb to 550 for the 2016 outing. In the lead-up to the race itself, which will be held on February 13, there will be at least three pre-parties to get racers excited about the prospect of trucking around in public in their skivvies. Last year, there were more than a few racers gulping a bit of ‘liquid courage’ just before pounding the pavement.
To help her solicit sponsors and manage the millions of little details attached to planning any major fundraiser, Katherine relies heavily on the help of buddies Erin Althoff and Tara DeLucia. “I’m very fortunate that two of my best friends are my co-race directors,” she says. “They’ve been by my side 100% of the way, and each take on roles which are essential to making Cupid’s a success here in St. Pete. We also have a great team besides the three of us which includes our spouses and close friends. Without this ‘dream team,’ I’m not sure how successful we would be.”
Without question, raising awareness and money for NF is a group effort. “Jeremy and the girls have been incredibly supportive,” Katherine says. “Everyone in my family knows the importance of what we’re trying to do, which is finding successful treatments, and one day a cure. Jeremy is either by my side at events or home with the girls. And they’ve jumped on the bandwagon for sure. ‘Undies’ is a very common word in our household, and the girls yell, “Cupid’s” anytime they see someone wearing red or a heart. Last year everyone was a little unsure what to do when February 15th rolled around and Cupid’s was done.”
Not that Team Zehr doesn’t make good use of its rare pockets of downtime. St. Pete residents since 2008 (they moved here after a lengthy stint in Arizona), Katherine and Jeremy have really embraced life in the Sunshine City. Especially the food! Favorite restaurant haunts include Ciccio Cali or Red Mesa Cantina, and Z Grille if they’re headed to a movie at Sundial afterward. When they have the girls in tow, a gelato stop at Paciugo’s, followed by a climb up the banyan trees, is a must.
“It’s like living in a big city with a small-town feel,” Katherine says of St. Pete. “Somehow, everything feels connected. The view is beautiful, and our downtown is amazing. There’s always something to do for young, old and in-between.”
And now, thanks to Katherine playing Cupid’s, that “something to do” just might include a run through the streets in your underwear.
To learn more about neurofibromatosis, visit www.ctf.org. To sign up for Cupid’s Undie Run, visit www.cupidsundierun.com.