Meet the woman behind the Mother’s Day Classic

“I was shocked that so many women were dying young.”

Like 130,000 other women around Australia, 47-year-old Louise Davidson will be lacing up her runners on Sunday 8th May and taking part in the 19th Mother’s Day Classic.

Many of the runners and walkers taking part will have special reasons for joining in. Breast Cancer affects as many as one in eight women in Australia, so it has touched most of us in some way.

But, as the founder of the Mother’s Day Classic, it’s probably fair to say that the event means more to Davidson that anyone else.

Davidson became well acquainted with breast cancer when she lost her mother to the disease in 1994.

“My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 50, and she died at 52. I was her main carer and supporter during her illness.”

“Aside from my personal grief, it seemed quite shocking to me that someone could die so young from this disease,” Davidson recalls.

After losing her mother, Davidson became acutely aware just how many young women were dying from breast cancer.

This was made all the more poignant because of her role as a professional in the superannuation industry – women were working hard to save for their retirement, but not living past retirement age.

Elsewhere in the world, other women were having similar conversations and fundraising events in aid of breast cancer research were starting to become more prominent. Serendipitously, a colleague and mentor of Davidson, Mavis Robertson, came across one such event while on holiday in New York.

Back in Australia, Robertson shared the story with Davidson and, inspired by a previous conversations about breast cancer, the pair started to hatch a plan to hold a similar event in Australia.

“We went into it somewhat naïvely. I’d never been to a fun run – I don’t think any of us had,” Davidson laughs.

The first events held in Sydney and Melbourne in 1998, were resounding successes. There were in excess of 2,500 people at the Melbourne event alone.

“I stood outside the tent [at the Melbourne event] watching people doing warm up aerobics and was overwhelmed by the number of people that had showed up to take part.

“Particularly, knowing that so many people were taking part in memory of a loved one,” recalls Davison.

“I remember thinking that my mum would have been very proud. She was quite an activist herself.”

While Davidson spent her own childhood presenting her beloved mother with burnt toast and tea on Mother’s Day, her own three daughters have grown up thinking that Mother’s Day and the Mother’s Day Classic are one and the same.

“They don’t know anything about Mothers Day apart from the Mother’s Day Classic. When they were little they used to write ‘Happy Mother’s Day Classic’ on the cards they made at pre-school,” laughs Davidson.

Louise Davidson with Mavis Robertson

There is no time for a Mother’s Day breakfast in bed in Davidson’s household. Instead she is up at 5am, getting ready to participate in the 4km run.

Davidson hasn’t always been a runner though. In fact, it was her involvement in the Mother’s Day Classic that inspired her to take up the sport.

“The first time I ran the Mother’s Day Classic was an amazing experience. To be on the track running with other people who were united in their desire to make a difference was exhilarating,” she remembers.

Davidson says that lots of other women have taken up running because of the Mother’s Day Classic.

“It’s a very supportive community environment. A lot of people come to the event to walk and see the runners and think ‘maybe I’ll run it next year’,” she explains.

The event was going from strength to strength and with her new love of running, so was Davidson. But then, in what seemed like a cruel twist of fate, Davidson went for a check up and discovered that she had breast cancer.

“It was a terrible shock to me. I somehow thought that all my involvement in the Mother’s Day classic would make me immune from getting [the disease] myself,” she jokes.

Thankfully, Davidson’s diligence with her own health meant that her breast cancer was detected early. She then got to experience the developments that have been made since her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis.

“Everything had advanced really significantly, imagining, surgical technique, the drugs available, radiotherapy.

“It made me feel really excited about the impact fundraising for breast cancer research has had. So much progress has been made,” she says.

Last year, Davidson participated in the Mother’s Day Classic as a breast cancer survivor. While she had always found the event to be an emotional roller coaster, this time the sheer magnitude of the day hit home like never before.

“I was participating for me and my mum, not just for my mum. It was very emotional,” she recalls.

“My diagnosis gave me a different perspective, it was much more personal.”

This year Davidson will be lacing up and joining around 40,000 participants to walk and run around the Tan Track, in the shade of Melbourne’s elm trees.

Nationwide there will be a further 90,000 Australians turning up to 116 venues to take part in the Mothers Day Classic. To date, the event has raised over $27.4 million for cancer research.

The numbers both inspire and sadden Davidson.

“Unfortunately, one of the things that it means is that breast cancer does impact a very large number of people in our community.

“It would be great if it didn’t affect so many people,” she says.

“I would happily give up the Mother’s Day Classic if it meant that breast cancer wasn’t affecting so many people.”

For Davidson, the Mother’s Day Classic will always be a celebration of the lives of those who have breast cancer and others who have been lost to the disease.

“It’s emotional but not depressing,” she says. “There is solidarity in seeing so many people wearing placards on their backs to remember or support someone with breast cancer.”

**For more information on the Mother’s Day Classic, click here.

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