Churchill Downs Forms Charitable Partnership with Derby Divas and Norton Cancer Institute Through 2020

Originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of Churchill Downs Magazine

LOUISVILLE, KY., (September 18, 2018– It can be difficult to introduce new customs to a place like Churchill Downs, an institution so steeped in tradition. Revelers gather beneath the Twin Spires in search of a connection to history and to participate in a long-loved ritual. Even a slight deviation from “the way it has always been” can be met with vocal resistance. There have been exceptions as Churchill Downs has evolved into the modern era. Renovations and expansions to the Racetrack in recent years quickly surpassed public skepticism. Then, ten years ago, an enhancement to Kentucky Oaks was introduced that was embraced as warmly and quickly as a slice of Derby Pie – a tradition that would canvas Churchill Downs Racetrack in shades of rose, blush and fuchsia year after year.

Kentucky Oaks Pink Out was a charitable initiative incorporated by Churchill Downs to raise awareness for women’s health issues on what was traditionally considered “ladies’ day at the races.” Soon, the Oaks became synonymous with the color pink and one would be hard-pressed to find a wardrobe that didn’t reflect support somehow, expressed either through hat, tie or shoe. In the early days, Churchill Downs partnered with several high-profile national organizations. Since that time, the effort has raised over $845,000 for cancers primarily affecting women.

In 2017, the charitable focus shifted slightly. Though Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby are now considered a two-day experience, attracting tourists and out-of-towners to both days, there was a time when Kentucky Oaks was widely considered the locals’ day at the track (a distinction that now shifts to Thurby). With that history in mind, why not focus the fundraising efforts on an organization with local impact. Thus, a partnership with Derby Divas and Norton Cancer Institute was formed that will now extend through the year 2020. Together, the organizations will help provide care to local women who lack access to breast health screenings and services.

Derby Divas is a small but mighty group of dedicated volunteers based in Louisville, Kentucky, who have committed themselves to raising significant funds for breast health initiatives. With an annual event held at an upscale clothing store, Rodes For Him For Her, the group has raised more than $1.5 million for Norton Cancer Institute and were honored with the naming of Derby Divas Breast Health Center dedicated in their honor at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital. Derby Divas partner exclusively with Norton Cancer Institute Breast Health Program, a program administered by the American College of Surgeons and accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC).

Lynnie Meyer, Ed.D, R.N., CFRE, Norton Healthcare senior vice president and chief development officer explains, “Derby Divas is a passionate group of people who really mobilize the community to raise awareness and raise dollars to support mammography for the underserved.”

This year, Churchill Downs’ $50,000 donation to the Breast Health Program at Norton Cancer Institute will be earmarked to help renovate the Norton Healthcare Mobile Prevention Center, which provides free screening services to underserved patients age 40 and older in Jefferson and surrounding counties. Lynnie describes, “The Mobile Prevention Unit is really about reaching people who otherwise would not come for services. We’re talking about going into neighborhoods and providing services for those who have perhaps never had them.”

Derby Divas member and breast cancer survivor, Angela Tafel expounds, “Sometimes you hear cancer and you instantly think it is a death sentence, but with early detection, luckily, there are so many protocols in place and innovative medications, that it is beatable, and that is what we want to stress and accomplish with Derby Divas and the Mobile Prevention Center.” Angela continues, “As women, we get so busy with our jobs, our kids and sometimes taking care of our parents, that we put ourselves on the back burner. With one in eight women receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, we can’t do that any longer.”

One of the celebrated centerpieces of Kentucky Oaks is the Survivors Parade when breast and ovarian cancer survivors are invited to walk the track at Churchill Downs. The survivors and a family member are met with thunderous ovation from the crowd and very few dry eyes. Participants typically carry signs proudly indicating how many years removed they are from their cancer diagnosis or, less jubilantly, bearing a sign in memory of someone who can’t say the same. It is a most moving moment captured within the spectacle and celebration of Kentucky Derby week – a relatively new tradition filled with heightened emotion comparable to the tradition of singing, “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Participants in the Survivors Parade are selected through an online nomination process and a select few are chosen to champion the cause based on the Kentucky Oaks’ annual title number. For example, for this year’s 144th Longines Kentucky Oaks, 144 breast and ovarian cancer survivors were identified. Nominations pour in from all over the country with incredibly touching stories of struggle and strength. For many, the opportunity to walk in the Survivors Parade has become a “bucket-list” moment, adding a meaningful punctuation to their journey to beat cancer.

But among the participants who use the opportunity to celebrate their victory over breast or ovarian cancer, there are some who must alternately use it as motivation for their ongoing battle. Jennifer Alderman was originally diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in 2009 and experienced a metastatic recurrence in 2013. The mother of three small children, she describes living with Metastatic Breast Cancer as living your life with an unwelcome guest. “I’m not looking for a cure,” Jennifer explains. “I just hope to find a treatment to keep the cancer at a point where I can live my life, raise my kids and grow old with my husband. I have to stay one step ahead of the cancer. My goal is to see my children graduate high school.”

Jennifer has been fighting cancer for nine years, five of those as Metastatic Stage 4. During that time, she has endured over 50 rounds of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries and a number of drugs of which she has lost count. When asked how she does it, she responds truthfully, “Some days I’m not sure.” Jennifer participated in the Survivors Parade in 2017 and was among the top vote recipients to walk again in 2018. Of the experience, she recalls, “For me, the experience of participating in the parade has been one of inspiration and support. Having cancer can be a very isolating experience. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by an amazing group of family and friends who love and support me, but none of them really understand what it is like to be the one fighting for your life. The Survivors Parade provides the opportunity to spend an entire day surrounded by other people who know exactly what you are going through, and I’ve had the chance to have some incredible conversations with these other survivors that left me totally inspired. And then when the actual parade starts and you hit the track and hear thousands of people cheering for you – you can’t even imagine how amazing that feels to all of us who have felt alone at some point in this fight. It is truly a unique and special experience.”

Echoing that feeling is 2017 Survivors Parade participant and nine-year cancer survivor, Barbie Tafel. Barbie shares that her diagnosis forced her to reassess what is important in life and assures that, looking back, more good than bad came from her diagnosis. “I used to have long, thick red hair,” she recalls. “People knew me by my hair. The day before I started my first chemotherapy treatment, I had a friend with a convertible. We had a wonderful lunch and then she put the top down, looked at me and said, ‘Let your hair go.’ Two weeks later it was gone, but that is a wonderful memory.” Barbie, who emphatically declares, “I had breast cancer – past tense,” recalls the emotional experience of the Survivors Parade: “It is incredible to look around and see these phenomenal women supported by their families.” For her walk, Barbie was joined by her daughter, Lee, who flew in from San Diego with three babies to be with her. “She had just had a baby six weeks prior to Oaks and said, ‘Mom, I want to be there for you.’”

Barbie Tafel is also a member of Derby Divas and was the event honoree in 2010. This year’s honoree, Dr. Erin Frazier, has also walked the legendary track at Churchill Downs for the Survivors Parade. Her unexpected breast cancer diagnosis came in 2013 at the age of 38 with no significant family history of breast cancer and with three children aged three, five and seven. Erin says, “Nothing makes you more thankful for life than when you are worried you might lose it.”   

Erin recalls that through the exhausting journey that included 16 rounds of chemotherapy over 6 months, she may have lost her hair, but not her sense of humor. “Since my diagnosis with breast cancer,” she shares, “I have had the amazing opportunity to meet and help guide other women through their diagnosis and treatment. They are so thankful for the support, but it is me who is blessed. They help me remember to not sweat the small stuff and how special life is.”

Unfortunately, there are still too many men and women with Stage 4 breast cancer for which there is no cure. “This is why it is so important for us to continue to raise support and awareness,” Erin pleads. She will do that as the honoree for Derby Divas’ 2018 event on Thursday, April 19 at Rodes For Him for Her presented by Churchill Downs. Funds raised from admission price and raffle tickets will support the effort to provide mammograms for underserved women in the Louisville community through Norton Cancer Institute.

With one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, the continued partnership between Churchill Downs, Derby Divas and Norton Cancer Institute has meaningful value, while the traditions of the Kentucky Oaks Pink Out and Survivors Parade create significant opportunity to bring hope to women across our community.

About Churchill Downs Incorporated

Churchill Downs Incorporated is an industry-leading racing, online wagering and gaming entertainment company anchored by our iconic flagship event – The Kentucky Derby. We own and operate Derby City Gaming, a historical racing machine facility in Louisville, Kentucky. We also own and operate the largest online horse racing wagering platform in the U.S.,, and we operate sports betting and iGaming through our BetAmerica platform in multiple states. We are also a leader in brick-and-mortar casino gaming with approximately 11,000 slot machines and video lottery terminals and 200 table games in eight states. Additional information about CDI can be found online at

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