Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Health and Sport Studies

First Advisor

Birrell, Susan

First Committee Member

Parratt, Catriona

Second Committee Member

Polumbaum, Judy

Third Committee Member

Andsager, Julie

Fourth Committee Member

Brown, Kenneth G


Since the 1970s, millions of Americans have raised billions of dollars for nonprofit organizations through philanthropic fitness events. In 2013, 27 of the 30 largest charity events netted nearly $1.7 billion for health-related nonprofits. Two central questions guide this work: How do those who run marathons and raise funds for breast cancer make sense of their participation?; and To what extent do the notions of a moral citizen and philanthropy shape the meanings that they make of philanthropic fitness events?

This work utilizes a year of interviews with nine women who ran the 26.2 with Donna: The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2012 and/or 2013. I also conducted participant observation, running the marathon in 2013, and nonparticipant observation from the sidelines in 2012. My project examines the changing cultural context of the marathon and the meanings of consumerism, fitness, giving, morality, and breast cancer as a source of social connection. It also examines participants' skepticism toward both health-related nonprofit organizations and their financial status. The result is a more nuanced explanation regarding individuals' choices to participate in endurance-length philanthropic fitness events.

The marathon is important to these runners' relationships with breast cancer-breast cancer the disease, breast cancer the concept, breast cancer the identity. This project finds that besides simply finding a community of like-minded individuals at a race, the healing element of the 26.2 with Donna is key to the formation of personal connections to the race that create long-term marathoner-fundraisers. The runners experience the 26.2 with Donna inside a perfect "pink bubble" of women's culture that surrounds the race and co-opts its participants. That space is overlain with notions of an imagined sisterhood based on individual and communal improvement through the consumption of pink-ribboned products.


Cancer, Cause-related marketing, Marathon, Philanthropy & fundraising, Running, Women's culture


xiv, 296 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 280-296).


Copyright 2014 Elisabeth Anne Erickson