The annual Cupid’s Undie Run, which takes place in cities nationwide on the weekend before Valentine’s Day, is a fun-filled charity event that raises money for research into finding a cure for neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form on nerve endings. Over 300 participants gathered for the Los Angeles iteration of the event at The Victorian in downtown Santa Monica, dressed in underwear, fluttering Cupid wings and sequined costumes. Despite the seriousness of the cause, the runners danced and laughed before embarking on a mile-long run to the beach and back.
“It’s a fun excuse to dress up and go on a fun little jog and dance and be with friends. It’s a really great event,” said Kate Logan, an attendee dressed in tighty whities and a flannel shirt.
To participate, runners paid a $40 entrance fee, but many also competed to raise additional money for the cause. In total, the Los Angeles event brought in over $46,000, and 17 events across the country on Saturday made over $2 million altogether.
The run is organized by Cupid’s Charity, a nonprofit started by a group of college students in the Washington, D.C. area when one of their friends was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis.
“The first one was small, but they made $60,000 in a day,” said Steve McKenzie, a board member for the charity. “These were just a bunch of fun loving guys in their 20s, so they started branching out to more cities and a real organization.”
Neurofibromatosis affects approximately 1 in 3,000 children in the United States. It has three levels of severity, and can lead to cancer, losses in hearing and eyesight and painful growths around the spine and brain stem. Most symptoms begin to appear in early adulthood and can worsen over time, increasing the risk of premature death.
Cupid’s Charity, which also organizes other charity events, donates all of its profits to the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Since the first Undie Run in 2010, the organization has raised over $15 million for neurofibromatosis, making it the largest source of non-governmental funding for research into the condition.
“There aren’t a lot of treatments and that’s unfortunate, but through our work here and Children’s Tumor Foundation, there’s a lot more clinical trials of more treatments on the horizon, so that we can continue to improve people’s lives,” Amy Boulas, Cupid’s Charity executive director, said. “That’s really powerful.”
Recently, the funding from the Undie Run has supported the creation and testing of a tumor suppression drug.
“In some of the trials, with some kids, they’ve been able to shrink the tumor 50 percent,” said McKenzie, who also serves on the board of the Children’s Tumor Foundation. “Many of these tumors grow around the spine, the brain stem, places where surgery is extremely risky, sometimes not feasible, so if you can shrink the tumor it is fabulous.”
The seriousness of the cause did not deter participants from having some serious fun, however. Music boomed across two dance floors, and participants ate, drank and showed off their costumes at photo op areas throughout the event space. When the time finally came to run, they laughed and waved as passersby shot them confused looks.
“I’ve worked with non-profits for several years, this one’s a little bit more cutting edge, a little more out there, a little bit more fun than some of the more traditional, staid biking and running events out there,” Boulas said.
Participants seemed to agree. “It’s like being at a wedding without a bride and groom,” runner Allen Natali said. “We’re all bridesmaids here.”