Six years ago, and six years after losing her mother to breast
cancer, Olivia Achtmeyer started something.
Something she could do to honor her mother’s life. Something to celebrate cancer survivors and their families. Something to pay it forward and support Mass General’s Patient and Caregive Fund.
And so, in October 2007, Runway for Recovery was born.
An annual fashion show in which the models are breast cancer survivors and others affected by the devastating disease, Runway for Recovery has grown bigger and bolder every year.
Now in its seventh year, what started feel-good fundraiser featuring 10 models walking a modest catwalk at a country club in Concord has blossomed into a city-scaled event featuring 35 models from across the country, including Boston news anchor Sara Underwood.
“I thought that this would be something I would do at a time of my life when I was looking to honor my memory and do something for her, maybe a two- or three-year event t get it out of my system,” said Achtmeyer. “But what I didn’t anticipate was that the models would be such a big part of it, and that would be so meaningful for them.”
This year’s Runway for Recovery fashion show will be held this Thursday, Oct. 3 at the Revere Hotel in Boston.
The event didn’t jump right form suburbs to the city.
For its first five years, Runway for Recovery was held at Nashawtuc Country Club and was supported by local businesses, like Lyn Evans, Blue Dry Goods and Sara Campbell.
After outgrowing the 250-capacity country club, Runway moved to the Westin Hotel in Waltham, where it sold out all 325 seats, in 2012. And so this year it moved to Boston’s Revere Hotel, and promptly sold out this venue, too.
“The event continues to regenerate itself,” Achtmeyer said. “When I look out at the guest list now, I recognize 20 percent of the names.”
Part of the reason Runway for Recovery has grown steadily seems to be that it’s message resonates on a different level.
Sure, the pink logo and fashion focus seem to align perfectly with the ribbons and colors establishing October as Breast Cancer Awareness month. But what sets Runway apart is that it focuses on those affected by the disease rather than finding a cure.
“I think there are a lot of things in October that resonate, it’s a month we’ve painted pink at this point,” said Achtmeyer. “One thing that I think really resonates, that people say over and over again, is that. while the runway has all of these amazing women who are survivors and walk with their own kids, is that other people walking have lost loved ones to breast cancer, and that can be such a private thing, but we want those women to be celebrated.”
A fashion show, silent auction and raffle, Runway for Recovery raises funds to support the Patient Care Giver Fund, a subset of the Cancer Center at MGH, as well as the Cancer Center at Tufts Medical Center.
The models are all cancer survivors – whether they are women who have survived themselves or the sons and daughters walking to celebrate parents who have fought cancer.
It was somewhere around the fifth year when it really started to sink in how meaningful and event Runway had become for the models, said Achtmeyer.
“That’s been the most wonderful part of this – that every year people bring their friends,” she said. “At the end of every show I have a line of people who tell me they know someone who would be great for runway.”
Still, Runway’s roots are in Concord.
Achtmeyer still works as a teacher in town in town; she’s at the Fenn School now, but students from her former gig at Middlesex School still volunteer for the event. And local stores, including Blue, Lyn Evans, Sara Campbell and Sole, continue to contribute clothing for the fashion show. Boston boutiques, like North River Outfitters and Crush, are also supporters.
“Always my heart will be in Concord, but it’s definitely grown into Boston,” said Achtmeyer. “A bunch of wonderful Concord citizes and women have been with the project, and they just go at it 100 miles an hour. … And these stores that have continued to follow us into Boston, that’s a huge commitment to make, and they’ve been with it and connected right away on a personal level that they want to do it.”