Master’s Thesis Idea Raises More Than $2 Million for Ovarian Cancer Research

Sargent OVER THE PAST four years, Kelli Sargent, MA ’04, has raised more than $2 million for ovarian cancer research through an annual 5k race, an idea she first came up with while working on her master’s thesis project.

“My mom had ovarian cancer and I was always into doing 5k events and running, so I thought, ‘How about doing my thesis on putting on a 5k run/walk for ovarian cancer?’” said Sargent, who received her master’s degree in sport management from USF’s Orange County campus.

While working on her thesis, Sargent initially thought of the fundraising run simply as a project for class. But as she researched the idea further, she began wondering if she could really make it happen despite receiving a “B” on the assignment.

“I’m glad I got a ‘B,’ because I think there’s always room for improvement,” Sargent said. “I’m glad my professor didn’t say, ‘Everything is great, everything is good,’ because there were things I needed to work on to actually make it happen.”

In fact, Sargent worked on the idea for another 18 months before the inaugural Run For Her 5k Run and Friendship Walk was held in November 2005. That first year, about 1,000 runners and walkers participated in the Los Angeles event; last November, more than 3,000 did so. In addition to paying a registration fee, participants can choose to raise additional money for ovarian cancer research, with all proceeds going to the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Cancer Research Institute.

Sargent also views the race as an opportunity to raise awareness about ovarian cancer, which is often called the “disease that whispers” because the early warning signs often mimic those of many other common conditions. It is one of the deadliest forms of cancer and most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer live only up to five years after their diagnosis.

Sargent’s inspiration for the race, her mother Nanci, lost her own battle with ovarian cancer in April 2008. Sargent said that although her mother never wanted the race to be about her, she was an integral part of it, serving on the organizing committee, speaking on stage at the post-race celebration, and triumphantly crossing the finish line each year. Last November’s race was the first one without her.

“It was definitely a difficult thing, but it inspired me even more that I will never stop doing anything I can to contribute to ovarian cancer research,” said Sargent, who now works as business manager for the Women’s Cancer Research Institute and continues to organize the race in her free time.