By the time most women reach midlife, annual visits to the doctor, especially during their reproductive years, have become routine. And definitely no big deal.

It’s a different story for men. The idea of regular checkups, especially those focused on their lower regions, strikes fear in the hearts of otherwise mature, brave, and sensible individuals. Whether this reluctance to visit the doctor stems from fear, embarrassment, machismo, or a combination of all three, one thing is clear: It’s not healthy. While women speak freely about their “female” problems, you rarely hear guys talking about testes, urethras, or prostate glands. They call their equipment “privates” for a reason.

It is these timid souls that sponsors of the 2010 Run For Dad are hoping to reach with their event on Father’s Day (Sunday, June 20), a fundraiser for prostate cancer research being held for the eighth year in Mercer County Park. While the 5K run and two-mile walk under the aegis of the American Cancer Society is organized to raise money, it is the idea of getting guys to go the doctor for simple tests — early detection saves lives — that is the goal.

“Yes, we want to raise money for research, and we do,” says Glenn Parker, a co-founder of Run for Dad. “But the initial impetus for us from the beginning has been to educate men about seeing their doctor, and alleviating the fears and uncertainty about the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test. It’s like taking blood for anything else. The part men are really leery of is the rectal exam, which is a very simple test done by a doctor in the office and takes all of 10 or 15 seconds with no instrument involved.”

Parker, whose Skillman-based company, Glenn Parker Associates, specializes in team building and management training, is one of the lucky ones. His doctor discovered he had prostate cancer in 1997 while testing his blood for an infection. He was treated with a radioactive seed implant, and has been free of the disease since. But his friend, Frank Simms, with whom he started Run for Dad, was not so fortunate. Simms died of prostate cancer five years ago.

“The run is actually a tribute to him,” says Tim Stout, who is the late Simms’ son-in-law and a member of the committee planning the event. “He was a survivor, but unfortunately he didn’t make it. My own father was diagnosed a few years ago, and he has beat it so far. He’s in good health and everything looks great. So it’s allowed me to stay involved and encouraged me to become more involved.”

Stout, 35, works for Stout’s Transportation, the Ewing-based company that has been in his family for three generations. The firm has contributed money to the run since his father-in-law and Parker organized the first run eight years ago. Stout has been busy getting sponsors for this year’s event and expects more than 1,200 participants on June 20. “We’ll have 50 to 60 volunteers who help us the day of the event,” Stout says. “We have a project team that works on this year-round.” Stout at first ran in the event, but now that he has children — ages 7 and 9 months, he walks with his family.

The facts about prostate cancer are sobering. Other than skin cancer, it is the most common type of cancer found in American men and the second leading cause of cancer death in men. One man in six will get this cancer during his lifetime, and one in 35 will die from the disease. In 2006 the Centers for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute reported that 203,415 men developed prostate cancer and 28,372 died from the disease.

It was Parker who got the initial idea for the annual run. “After I was diagnosed and had treatment, I decided I was going to make something good come of this,” Parker says. “I walked in the door of the American Cancer Society and told them I wanted to volunteer. They asked me what I wanted to do. What I was good at was communicating. I was used to being a corporate trainer, a speaker, and a writer. My specialty is teamwork.”

Parker began doing peer counseling with men who had been recently diagnosed. “These were men who wanted to talk to someone who had been through the cycle, who was not a doctor,” he says. “I enjoyed that. Then, I got on a committee of people trying to do prostate cancer awareness and education. I did a lot of speaking to corporate groups and community groups around that theme. I would tell my story.”

Parker and his friend and fellow prostate cancer survivor Simms began working together, making awareness their focus. “The insidious part of prostate cancer is that by the time you start to see symptoms, you’re very far gone,” says Parker. “So you have to go to the doctor when you’re not sick.”

After a while Parker and Simms realized that despite their hard work, they weren’t getting the results they wanted. “We weren’t reaching a lot of people,” Parker says. “So we started looking around for something else to do.”

A runner at the time, Parker happened to take part in a run in Manhattan’s Central Park, held on Father’s Day. It was an all-encompassing family event and a rousing success. “I saw what went on there, and I was impressed. It was a family thing, a community thing,” he says. “Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa — everyone was out. There were races for kids. It was a very festive sort of thing, very positive. So I came back and spoke to Frank. He said this was exactly what he had been thinking about because he had seen literature for this. We came together and said, ‘Let’s do this.’ We didn’t know what we were getting into or how we would do it but we jumped in.”

After making the happy discovery that Mercer County Park had a course certified by the U.S. Track and Field Association, Parker and Simms soon realized there were certain details involved about the course and the timing. They hired a race management consultant, who told them “If you get 200 people in the first year, that would be good. If you get 300, that’s a roaring success.”

“We got 700,” says Parker. “So we had all the problems that first year associated with that kind of success. We ran out of water, food, and tee shirts. The registration lines were long and took forever. But people were in a great mood. They were thrilled to be there. There were runners, walkers, and races for kids under 12, who all got a bib number and a medal. We knew we had found a niche. We had something.”

Parker, Stout, and their fellow organizers keep Simms’ memory alive with the annual Run for Dad event. “I lost a very good friend,” says Parker. “Frank’s wife is still very much involved and is a very hard worker and member of the team.”

The goal for this year’s race is 1,500 participants, dependent on the weather. Registration on race day begins at 7:30 a.m. with the run and walk starting at 9:00 a.m. While there is a 5K run on a USATF certified, traffic-free course, the event also includes a two-mile walk on a park road and paved trails, as well as short races for kids.

A major focus of this event is African-American men and their families. “The disease hits them something like 60 percent more than Caucasian and Asian men,” says Parker. “We have an African-American fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, that has been active with us in the education process, and they are bringing 20 members from the Trenton chapter. Their goal is to bring us a check for $500 that day.”

Omega Psi Phi member Ronald Williams, who works in the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice in Trenton, is just one example of the many working professionals along the Route 1 corridor who participate in the run/walk, many of whom create teams. According to Parker, several corporate teams come every year, including Lawrence Urology/AdvanceMed Associates (Gary Karlin, a partner in the practice, brings a team of 25 to 30 employees every year); oncologist Peter Yi and a team from Princeton Medical Group; Princeton Fitness and Wellness Center; Beardsworth Consulting Group in Flemington; and Nu Strata Logistics. Other working professionals register as individual runners or walkers, including Parker’s co-chair Frank Haggerty, a Lawrenceville resident and the executive director of administration at Rutgers.

Last year’s Run for Dad netted $25,000 for the American Cancer Society, which is currently funding research projects at Rutgers and Princeton universities. Sponsors for this year have already committed more than $30,000. The goal is $50,000. But education remains the primary objective.

“This is a good fundraiser, and it’s getting better every year,” says Parker. “We want to keep our focus on education and advocacy. Because in terms of prevention, there is nothing more important.”

Run for Dad, American Cancer Society, Mercer County Park. Sunday, June 20, 7:30 a.m. Annual father’s day 5K run and 2K walk to increase awareness about prostate cancer and raise funds for American Cancer Society’s research, education, and screening projects. Games for children, refreshments, awards, and prizes. Register. 732-951-6370 or http://community.acsevents.org/runfordadnj.

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