Thanks in part to the efforts of New Canaan's Jeanine Gutauskas, residents will have the opportunity to join an estimated 2,000 women, children, husbands, parents, survivors and others to run, walk and remember this May at the inaugural Susan G. Komen Connecticut race in Westport.

After 20 years in Hartford, the Connecticut affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure will add a race at Sherwood Island Park on May 11.

Gutauskas was announced as a co-chair of the race, along with Jane Gladitsch, of Trumbull, in March, but she has been preparing for the event since last summer by meeting with corporate sponsors and planning the logistics of the event. Gutauskas has grown close to Komen Connecticut Executive Director Anne Morris, who asked her to lead the effort.

"In Fairfield (County), we pretty much started from ground zero with this race," Gutauskas, who has participated in the Hartford race for the past five years, said in an interview.

Last year, her team, "Rita Margarita," was the leading fundraiser, at $28,000. Her team's name, "Rita Margarita," comes from Gutauskas's mother-in-law, Rita Gutauskas, who battled breast cancer on and off four times for 25 years. Rita passed away in January, which spurred Gutauskas to become even more involved with the organization.

More Information

Fact box

When Morris, who spoke with Gutauskas through difficult times with Rita, asked if she'd like to help organize the inaugural race in Fairfield County, Gutauskas jumped at the chance.

"I think at a certain age you want to do something to give back," she explained. "I really just want to do something that makes the world a better place. After Rita passed away last January, this seemed like the path I should take."

Susan G. Komen Connecticut has held an annual race in Hartford for 20 years. The statewide organization is an affiliate of the national group, meaning that all the money it raises stays in Connecticut.

According to Komen Connecticut, the state has the second highest instance of breast cancer in the country, though it has only the 35th highest instance of mortality. According to the organization's 2011 community profile report, 490 Connecticut women died from cancer in 2008.

The organization advertises that 75 percent of the money donated is used for education and screening, while 25 percent goes to research. Gutauskas said that screening and education about the importance of mammograms is the most effective way the organization can use donations since early detection offers a 99-percent survival rate after five years.

The race can be an inspirational event for people bringing together survivors, family members and friends as a part of something larger than themselves. Guatauskas recalled the first race she and her family ran in, which was shortly after Rita was rediagnosed with cancer.

"It was myself and my husband, who was pushing a stroller," she recalled. "A little after the starting line, we saw Rita and her husband, Al, and my parents. I looked over and my husband was crying, and I said, `What's wrong?' and he said, `This is just such an incredible moment, having my family altogether here.' He said he will always remember that. You're not just running to run, you're running to save lives."

She hopes that as many as 2,000 people will run on May 11 and share in the sense of community she experienced. The event will feature a 5-kilometer run and walk, two races for children, a 1.5-kilometer walk and a survivors' breakfast and parade.

Another community member involved in this year's race is B.J. Perkins, a trainer and coach for Infinity Fitness in New Canaan. Perkins was named the Town Ambassador for the race for New Canaan. He said he has been getting the word out with his clients, one of whom has put up posters around town. Perkins, who lives in Fairfield but has been training people in the area for years, said he hopes to have a large group of about 40 on his team -- "Fitness Perks" -- at the race, one of whom he thinks has a shot at winning it.

Like many involved in the race, Perkins is related to a breast cancer survivor, his mother.

"My mother had breast cancer and is a survivor and I have a client who's a survivor. My mom had a double mastectomy five years ago," he said. "It was a rough time for her, the chemo was pretty intense. She had replacements. They took a lot of muscle out of her arm. She's on a farm down in Georgia and likes to work on it, but still gets tired sometimes."

One fact that stood out for Perkins during the term of his involvement with the race was something he heard at a meeting: New Canaan is one of the towns in the state that has the highest incidence of breast cancer. The explanation for why this is so was that New Canaan women are so busy they often reschedule or forget mammograms, Perkins said.

Gutauskas made that point as well, stressing how important the appointments are, and how easy they are to forget. She suggests groups of friends make appointments together and make a day out of it.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews