Personal Stories, Community
By: Amanda Oberstein
On most every weekend of the year, in almost every community in the country, some organization is hosting a walk or run. These range from the marquee marathons to the local charity 5K – pioneered by Susan G. Komen’s national Race for the Cure® and MORE THAN PINK Walk™ series.
Yet many people are looking to do more. This desire to do more led to the trend of so called “extreme” walks that challenge people to slog through mud or get covered in paint as part of the event, providing an additional bonding experience more than just a casual stroll through the park.
Since 2003, Susan G. Komen has hosted a series of events that make any of these “extreme” walks look like child’s play – the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®. The 3-Day is a 60-mile walk that takes please over the course of three days and is held in seven metropolitan areas across the country: Dallas/Fort Worth, Michigan, New England, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle, and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Over the past 16 years and 170 events, the 3-Day has raised over $848 million to help save lives through breakthrough research and local community programs to help people today who are facing a breast cancer diagnosis.
These events require an extreme level of commitment. Each walker is challenged to raise at least $2,300 per walk before they even embark on their walk. Walkers train for months leading up to the event, preparing themselves physically and mentally. While walking 60 miles is a huge accomplishment, there is a group of dedicated participants who take their commitment to the next level, participating in all seven 3-Day events.
This year, 11 dedicated people took on this challenge, traveling the country to participate in all seven 3-Days. Ten of them did so as a walker, walking 420 miles each, and one of them participated as a crew member in six events and as a walker in one. That’s 4,260 miles combined, or nearly the same distance as if they had conducted a relay race from San Diego to Philadelphia – and back!
2018 7-City Participants
We caught up with four of these amazing individuals (Stephen Youngerman, Susan Breding, Jim Hillman and Carol Boman) to learn more about why they walk the 3-Day and what it was like to walk the entire series in 2018. Here are their stories:
How did you first get involved with the 3-Day?
Stephen: My wife was diagnosed with cancer for the first time in 2002 and walked her first 3-Day in 2004. My children were young at the time, and we would come to the 3-Day to support her as she walked and meet her at the finish line. She participated in the 3-Day every year after that until she was diagnosed for the second time in 2011. I walked in her place in 2011, and we walked together for the first time in 2012. My family has participated every year since 2004.
Susan: I first got involved with the 3-Day after my sister sent a fundraising letter to me in 2006. I looked up the event and realized there was one close to me in Tampa, so I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself to do something huge.
How many 3-Day events have you participated in?
Describe your 3-Day experience.
Carol: I really enjoy walking and meeting new people. It is an energetic atmosphere and I walk through communities I have never seen before. The people we pass along the route are always so appreciative of what we are doing. Also, I enjoy passing along information to those we pass who are not familiar with the walk.
Stephen: No matter how hard I try, I cannot explain the 3-Day. It is about sharing stories, sharing common goals, giving with the expectation of getting nothing in return—being surrounded by givers. I like the 3-Day because of the people I’m with. Selfish people don’t show up.
Susan: For me, the 3-Day is a combination of many emotions. I develop some of my deepest relationships while walking 60 miles. I chose to do the 3-Day against all cancers. I can raise a large amount of money, of which 75% goes toward research for a cure. I believe a breakthrough for one cancer will begin a domino effect for all cancer.
Jim: For myself, my experience has been a journey that for me began in San Francisco in 2008 as a one-time way of honoring and celebrating my mom’s life, which ended too early after an eight-year battle with breast cancer. What was to have been a “short” journey was actually only the beginning of a journey that will continue until a cure is found. Beginning with my first walk and continuing through my last, I have found that my passion has not diminished, for with every walk, I have met new people and continued relationships with those I have met on prior walks. These experiences provide additional special stories and moments that fuel my desire to make a difference in the lives of those affected by breast cancer. Finally, I love that feeling on Monday morning after an event, when I look back on the just completed walk and think, “For three days, along with so many other special people who comprise this community, we made a difference in the lives of so many.” After this thought, my next is about the next 3-Day when we can do it all again!
What motivates you to participate in all 7 events?
Carol: The fact that I could do it physically and financially, and had the time available. As a survivor, I wanted to show others that this is doable. Cancer doesn’t have to be a restriction. It is surprising how many walkers and crew participate in multiple cities. It’s nice to see so many familiar faces at each event.
Stephen: My wife, but it’s too late to help her. She passed away in December of 2017. I need to do something so that other families don’t have to live through what my family has. It’s horrible.
Susan: When my mom called me to tell me that they found cancer in the bone of her arm, I flew to Arizona to help her fight neuroendocrine cancer. We battled for two and a half years. When the doctors told my mom there was nothing more they could do for her, I felt helpless and wanted to do something. I decided to walk seven cities and raise $16,000 in her honor. Unfortunately, my mom lost her fight on May 7. Three months later I took my first step on my 7-city journey in her memory.
Do you have a favorite moment from one of the events?
Susan: My favorite moment was when my sister Patti switched cities and surprised me by joining me on my first walk in Tampa. She surprised me again, along with my other sister Carole, to celebrate the last walk of my 7-city journey in San Diego.
Stephen: The balloon release at the closing ceremony of the 2018 San Diego 3-Day was awesome. Those of us who had lost loved ones to breast cancer wrote down messages to them on balloons, and we released them together in unison. It was an amazing moment.
Jim: There is one “moment” that has lasted eight years, and provided me with the true meaning of the 3-Day and changed my life forever. That moment came on the second day of the 2011 Boston 3-Day when after reaching the top of Belmont Hill on a rainy morning, I met the “little girl on Belmont Hill.” This young lady held a sign that she had composed and written, that stated, “My mom died from breast cancer. Keep walking for a cure”. My heart was touched to the core as I could tell her pain was deep for the loss of her mom. I simply told her we loved her, gave her a gentle hug and took the photo below so that I would never forget her. I couldn’t get the image of that little girl’s face out of my head, and knew I had to learn more about her story. I posted the photo I took on Facebook, and immediately was flooded with comments and friend requests from people who wanted to help.
At the San Francisco 3-Day that year, I printed out a laminated image of the little girl and attached it to my pack. People would ask me about the little girl, but one woman started crying when she saw the picture. As it turns out, the woman I met, Christina, was from Boston and knew the little girl. Her name was Zoie and she was the youngest of three girls. Their father wasn’t in their life, and their mother passed away from breast cancer. I could tell these girls needed my help and told Christina about the people on Facebook who heard about my search for Zoie and wanted to help her.
To make a long story short, Christina, my Facebook community, and I have raised money to provide Zoie and her sisters with whatever they need, from clothing to a new furnace for their home to a 10-day trip to California. I keep in touch with Zoie and her sisters to this day and consider them family. Zoie just turned 17 and is hoping to walk the Boston 3-Day with me this coming year. I hope to take her to Belmont Hill and tell her the story of the “little girl on Belmont Hill.”
What impact has the 3-Day had on you and those around you?
Carol: As a survivor, it has shown me and hopefully as an example to others, that breast cancer doesn’t mean you necessarily have limits. When I see all the survivors at the closing ceremony, it always amazes me how many of us there are and how positive and proactive we can be.
Susan: My first reaction is that everyone thinks I am the cancer lady. I get called every time a “friend of friend” is diagnosed with cancer, asking for referrals to places that can help. Because I was asked I have learned there are so many organizations out there to assist patients for specific cancers. By participating in the walks, I have found my voice and learned to advocate for my mom and myself with doctors. I have shown myself and my family that I can—anyone can—set out to do something and make a difference just by accomplishing one goal at a time.
Jim: The 3-Day has taught me a great deal about how people deal with adversity, rise above it and despite all they are dealing with, help others. It has also taught me a great deal about myself, helping me to grow as an individual.
Why do you love the 3-Day?
Carole: I love walking long distances and that the money raised goes to a good cause. I have enjoyed meeting so many new people and have made lasting friendships with people from all over the country. I have enjoyed experiencing new locations as well.
Susan: I love the community, compassion, love and support found on each walk. I love that for three days there is a pink bubble and I get to experience the world as I believe it should be—a place where kindness shows in each person, and everyone is included, encouraged, and supported.
Why are you “In” with Susan G. Komen?
Carol: I believe Komen uses its resources wisely. I have met other survivors and heard their stories about how they contact Komen and the help Komen has provided them. Before and during the 3-Days the staff is always helpful, and the entire event is well planned and professionally run.
Stephen: You guys have your act together! The events are well done, and the money goes to a good cause. I 100% believe that because of Susan G. Komen and what they have done, my wife had a longer and better quality of life for as long as she lived.
Susan: I’m in with Susan G. Komen because I believe I can make the most impact against cancer as an individual with this organization. And I believe the cure for one will begin the cure for all cancers. I can’t give up now! I can’t quit before the miracle happens.
Jim: When I first heard the 3-Day commercial in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was a challenge I had to learn more about. After a few minutes of research, I choose Komen based on what I read. After the Get Started meeting and feeling the passion of those in attendance, followed by my first walk, I knew this was where I could make a difference and I made the decision to support Komen as long as I could and as long as Komen’s mission remained as when I started.
Susan, Carol, Jim and Stephen all plan on participating in all seven 3-Day events in 2019 along with 14 other courageous and committed participants. If you’re interested in joining them, click here to find an event near you.
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