From Humble Beginnings, the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler Soars

A Charlottesville tradition brings together a cast of thousands to support breast cancer care and research at UVA.

By Grace Maselli
Cynthia Lorenzoni at W4M 2010

Cynthia Lorenzoni is the driving force behind the Charlottesville Women's Four Miler.
Photo by Coe Sweet.

Some people were born to think big and be bold. Cynthia Lorenzoni, race director of the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler, is one of them. Together with her husband Mark, Lorenzoni put the leg muscle into the idea for the Four Miler, an annual race that the duo started more than a quarter century ago that gets underway every Labor Day weekend in Charlottesville.

Now in its 29th year and the biggest all-women’s event in Virginia, the Women’s Four Miler directs all proceeds to support the UVA Cancer Center Breast Care Program and breast cancer research at UVA.

An overwhelming number of event participants—runners and walkers alike ranging from the elementary school-aged to senior citizens—are affected by breast cancer in some way: either as survivors, or people dealing directly or indirectly with women who have died from the illness. Many are eager to raise money to fight a pervasive disease.

The event, managed through the Charlottesville Track Club, has an impressive trajectory. In its first year, 290 women entered the charity race. In 2011, 3,500+ runners were stirred to action, with online registration closing in just 10 hours.  

More importantly, for the last three years the Four Miler has raised noteworthy sums of money to support cancer care and research: $321,000 in 2008, $325,000 in 2009, and $335,000 in 2010.

But the big numbers don’t end there. To pull off the grand event it takes upwards of 350 volunteers organized by Mark Lorenzoni; of those 350 people, 100 are dedicated to parking one car every three seconds.

Charlottesville Women's Four Miler 2010“The cause is such an inspiration to people!” says Cynthia Lorenzoni, who is also the co-owner with Mark of Charlottesville’s Ragged Mountain Running Shop. Cynthia Lorenzoni, a runner since age 14 and a college scholarship athlete, was the first woman to cross the finish line in the historic Marine Corp Marathon in 1981 and 1982, and ran the 1984 Olympic trials.


Coming Together for a Worthy Cause
It’s commonplace for runners in the Four Miler to be members of teams that raise money to honor a particular survivor or victim of breast cancer, keeping memories and disease prevention alive. Perhaps the most emotionally stirring expanse of the race is the Motivational Mile, a powerful stretch of raceway decorated with posters displaying the names of cancer survivors and those who have died from the disease.

“It’s an incredibly moving part of the event,” says Audrey Lorenzoni, assistant race director and one of the Lorenzonis’ four children, whose involvement in the Four Miler can be traced back to her earliest childhood when she handed out cups of water to runners.

The Power of Discovery

From basic science research aimed at the cellular level of cancer to drug discovery and alternative therapies, physician scientists at the UVA Cancer Center are asking the questions that matter. Learn more about two exciting research projects currently underway at UVA thanks to the support of the Charlottesville Women's Four Miler:

Race participants not only range widely in age, but in skill level—with walkers an absolutely welcome demographic. To ease the hesitant into the process, people can opt to participate in the Women’s Four Miler Training Program, hosted by the Charlottesville Track Club.

According to Cynthia Lorenzoni, 20 percent of race earnings are directed to the Patients & Friends Research Fund at the UVA Cancer Center. The fund is the brainchild of a group of cancer patients and their friends and families to support promising cancer research. Patients & Friends funds help put more scientists to work on finding better treatments for cancer.

Four Miler money also pays for the Mobile Mammography Program that makes free mammography screenings available to communities around Virginia, as well as the “Navigational Notebook” and self-help book given to every newly diagnosed breast cancer patient.

“We care about supporting compassionate, comprehensive care along the breast cancer prevention and treatment continuum,” says Cynthia Lorenzoni.