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Scientist Starts Pink Boat Regatta to Benefit Breast Cancer Research

By BCRF | August 20, 2015

Inspired by her love of sailing and her mother’s diagnosis, Ashley Bell founded the event that has raised more than $127,000

Ashley Bell had recently fallen in love with sailing when she learned her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was the second time her mom was faced with the disease – but it Ashley’s first time watching her mom go through treatment. Adopted at birth, Ashley did not meet her biological mother until she was 19 years old – a decade after her mom’s first diagnosis.

This time Ashley was there for her and she decided to take action. Inspired by a breast cancer research sailing event in San Francisco, she decided to rebrand and bring it to Seattle where she lives. Now three years after the Pink Boat Regatta’s launch, the event has raised more than $127,000 for BCRF.

“My mother is thousands of miles away and I couldn't do much for her – but what I could do was combine one of the things I loved doing the most with a cause that was very near and dear to my heart,” she said.

The decision to donate the proceeds to BCRF came easy to Ashley who works as a field chemistry specialist. She knows firsthand the challenges and importance of supporting research.

“Advances in cancer research are not made in ‘aha’ moments, they come from years of laboratory scientists, doctors, graduate students and support staff working painstakingly long hours in front of a lab bench, or an instrument, or an Excel spreadsheet that never seems to end,” she said. “And scientific equipment is no different than boating equipment – expensive as hell. Even the most important and groundbreaking research has to stop when funding runs out.”

With more than 2,500 hours of research funded by her event so far, the Pink Boat Regatta is well on its way to giving BCRF researchers the resources they need to pursue their work.  

This year’s event on September 13 will feature two regattas – one in Seattle and another in Bellingham, Washington – preceded by a celebration dinner the night before. Peg Mastrianni, Deputy Director and Chief Program Officer of BCRF, will be in attendance. In addition, Seattle-based BCRF grantees Drs. Julie Gralow and Mary-Claire King will deliver keynote addresses.  

While she feels fortunate for the amount of support her local community has given, Ashley says her mom remains her biggest inspiration to keep the event going and growing.

“My mother came to the first annual regatta in Seattle while between rounds of chemotherapy, and I can't tell you how special it was to have her by my side that day, hot flashes and all. She is my soul sister and I cannot imagine life without having met her,” Ashley told BCRF adding that the success of the event is spurred by others who have been impacted by the disease and decided to make a difference.

“So many people get involved who, like me, have their own personal stories, and it's their enthusiasm which really drives this event year after year.”