By Zoë Mitchell
BU News Service
It was 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Hundreds of people were dancing furiously to Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love,” which blared over the speakers at the Boston House of Blues. They were all dressed not up, but down — in their underwear.
Bill Austin, 47, was in boxer-briefs, cowboy boots and red-and-white striped cowboy hat. Darren Branch, 30, was stripped down to just his boxers. And, Theresa Walsh, 51, was decked out in a pink camo print nightgown with glitter and heart shaped rhinestones covering her face.
All of these people had more in common than just the courage to be in their underwear in the middle of the day — they were here for the annual Cupid’s Undie Run, a daytime party and a mile long run to help raise money to find a cure to Neurofibromatosis, or NF, a genetic disease that can cause tumors to grow on nerves throughout the body.
Walsh, from Melrose, Massachusetts, has attended the Cupid Run for the past four years. This year, she raised $555 dollars in donations from family, friends, and co-workers. Walsh felt comfortable in her undergarments, seeing it simply as a sign of support for those with NF.
“They can’t hide from this disease, so why should I hide from anything?” she said.
NF affects an estimated 100,000 people in the United States, according to the Children’s Tumor Foundation. There is no known cure for the disease, which can cause blindness, deafness, learning disabilities and severe chronic pain. The money raised by the Cupid’s Undie Run goes to the Children’s Tumor Foundation and NF research.
“Our overall goal is to find treatments for a really terrible disease,” said Chad Leathers, a Cupid’s Undie Run co-founder. “Our goal today is to bring incredibly needed funds to a woefully underfunded disease and to set the framework for the future.”
Leathers, 30, who is from Colorado, co-founded the Cupid’s Undie Run after his brother was diagnosed with the disease. The first Cupid’s event was in Washington, D.C., eight years ago, and now takes place in 37 cities across the United States as well as in Australia.
Lindsey Norse of Boston organized the first Boston run four years ago after being involved in Washington, D.C. Although she does not have any family with NF, Norse has formed personal connections with organizers and attendees directly affected by the disease.
“After building all these relationships, it feels like you’re affected because you know all of these people, all of these parents,” Norse said. “It affects people that I’ve grown to love and it’s just something that I do because we have to do it. We just have to get a cure.”
The Boston Cupid’s event raised $185,000 this year.
“[The Cupid’s Undie Run] is now this massive, massive thing and, quite frankly, will be an undoubted reason for when we reach a cure,” Leathers said.
Aissa Boduch from Barrington, New Hampshire, was one of the few not in underwear. She was dressed as a female Hugh Hefner with a pipe hanging from her lips, wearing a dark red robe she earned last year for raising over $1,000. Boduch has a six-year-old son is affected by NF and raised $650 this year.
She was one of many attendees with children or family members affected by NF. Gary Morello of Methuen, Massachusetts, has a four-year-old son is affected by the disease. He said he struggles every day with his child’s diagnosis, but the Saturday’s run was a time for him to enjoy himself.
“You need a day to yourself just to have some fun,” he said.
Morello said the annual event provides him with support and understanding about what his family goes through day-to-day.
“[Some people] have no idea what it’s like to have a son diagnosed with NF,” he said. “It’s about getting that support.”
Later on, Morello and the other participants burst through the doors of the House of Blues and onto the streets, with “Eye of the Tiger” blaring in the background. They ran the 0.41 miles around Fenway Park, hollering and cheering triumphantly around the stadium, unbothered by the people who stopped to take photographs.
“Nobody cares,” Leathers said.
He also had advice for people who might be uncomfortable about the idea of partying and running around in their underwear.
“Long johns are underwear too,” he said.