|From left Tanya, Betty, and Sandi- The Hotties Survivors!|
A walk for breast cancer. Three days. 60 miles. This was the extent of the journey for some. For others, the journey is much longer. Every year over 192,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed and over 40,000 will die from this disease. During three days in August 2011, 2,100 walkers participated in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Event that took place in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Included in those 2,100 walkers were the Hotties-4-Hooters, 20 area women who teamed up to raise money, awareness, and support for breast cancer research. Of those 20, three were breast cancer survivors themselves: Betty Strommer, Tanya Hoekstra, and Sandi Gunter.
The Hotties team got its start in 2007 when Strommer was just finishing chemotherapy and radiation treatments from her breast cancer battle. The first year, her daughter Ann Studer, daughter-in-law Amanda Strommer, and her cousins teamed up to walk in support of Strommer. Since then, she has walked every year. The 2011 walk was her fifth.
“Each year I walked, except the first, I’ve walked in honor of a friend,” said Strommer. “That was the reason I would sign up again. And each year, I have not been disappointed in the excitement and electricity of each day’s events– from opening to closing ceremonies, to the fun crew members, to the imaginative pit stops, to the evening entertainment, to sleeping in the tents– it’s all good!” she said.
Hoekstra’s reasons for getting involved in the walk were two-fold she said. “First of all, I always admired Betty for walking year after year. She truly inspired me. Secondly, along with that set inspiration, coincidentally, I was diagnosed myself in May 2010. It was a six-month battle and struggle that gave me a whole new outlook on life and friendships.”
She continued, “I absolutely loved the whole 3-Day experience, so many different people with their own story coming together for one common cause.” She recounted one of the many survivor stories over the three days. “I will never forget walking with an elderly man around 80 years old that was walking alone in honor of his wife while holding her teddy bear. We never thought he would ever make the entire 60 miles. However, at each pit stop, there he was! He would encourage us just as we encouraged him. It was incredible.”
Between Strommer’s and Hoekstra’s cancer battles, was Gunter’s, who was diagnosed and completed treatment, a couple of years ago.
“The Susan G. Komen was an experience I have wanted to do for years,” Gunter said. “Walking 60 miles in three days scared me to no end! Then my daughter Heidi (Ulferts) said, ‘Yes mom, you can do it, I’ll do it with you.’ “Alison Gunter, her other daughter, and her friend Katie Pieper came aboard and “it was an adventure for the memory book!” She continued, “I thoroughly enjoyed the walk, all the excitement! Each day was a new day full of fun and memories.”
The 2011 event began with an opening ceremony at Southdale Mall and ended with a survivor walk at the capitol building in St. Paul. Several thousand people gathered to cheer them on. Along the way were pit-stops, cheering stations, survivor stories, and stories of those that didn’t survive. Add to that, sleeping in two-person tents, using porta-potties for three days, and discovering blisters the size of mountains on their feet are experiences that won’t be forgotten any time soon. Every one of the 20 “Hotties” has their own experiences and memories that they took with them from the event.
The 3-Day itself is a well-orchestrated machine. There are stops complete with snacks, beverages, and medical help every few miles. Sweep vans patrol the route to help those struggling and carry them to the next pit stop where they can recharge or hop a bus back to camp. There were also volunteer staff at each busy intersection to insure the walker’s safety.
At the campsite itself, row upon row of pink tents lined the camp. Hot showers, meals, massage chairs, cell phone charging stations, and laptops were provided.
A giant medical tent was situated in the middle of the camp, where the wait for non-emergency services, blister care and sore muscles being tops, was sometimes well over an hour long. Doctors, nurses, and EMT’s all volunteered their time for the event where dehydration proved to be the biggest emergency concern for the medical staff.
The Hotties were not without some serious medical concerns of their own. Besides giant blisters, extremely sore legs, and even a bone separation in one team member’s foot, one member of the Hotties team passed out after the second day and was treated with two bags of IV fluids and monitored closely. She was cleared to walk the final day but was heavily cautioned to drink ample Gatorade and water or she would not be allowed to complete the walk. While she was being treated, a walker from another team passed out and was taken away by ambulance. Inside the tent, several other walkers were being given IV fluids and monitored closely. Ibuprofen, ice, and Bio-freeze were handed out like candy at Halloween.
To participate in the 3-Day, the walkers had to commit to raising at least $2,300.00 each. The Hotties team raised $48,493.50 the fourth highest amount of the 2011 Minnesota event, all with the support of family, friends, and the surrounding communities. Several fundraisers were held including a One-Stop Shop/Tour of Homes, a bash at Keggers, another bash and silent auction in New Prague (Studer’s town), a purse sale, and sales of “pink” merchandise among other smaller fundraisers. Eva Priebe, owner of Amish Creations, even organized a table setting event for the Clara City businesses to participate in. The proceeds were donated to the team. Hoekstra, who was the spearhead of the 2011 Hotties team, said that the walk wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the area businesses, civic groups, and the surrounding community, “It was amazing to see all the local businesses and community “think pink” and donate to every fundraiser or simply drop a check in the mail to one of our many teammates. Their support was truly appreciated.” That sentiment was echoed by one of the volunteer staff at the event when she expressed her amazement that the team had raised such a large amount of money in such a small community.
The highlight of the weekend came at the closing ceremonies when Strommer, Gunter, and Hoekstra led all of the participating survivors in the Survivor Walk, the emotional conclusion to the event which this year raised over 5 million dollars for breast cancer research. “I was proud to hold Betty’s hand along side of Tanya to walk the Survivor Walk. That gave me the thrills and tears to make the walk so worth it,” said Gunter. Hoekstra agreed, “The Survivor Walk was an experience of a lifetime. Walking hand-in-hand with Betty and Sandi was a wonderful ending to an amazing weekend. And, having my family there to greet me at the finish line, that was the icing on the cake.”
As for future walks, Strommer isn’t for sure if she is walking for a sixth time or not. “As far as walking again next year? I walk in honor or in memory of someone usually so hopefully, I’ll never have to walk again.” She hasn’t completely ruled out walking just for the the challenge though and plans to stay involved with the team regardless of if she walks or not.
Hoekstra is signed up already for next year’s event. “I will walk again, absolutely! I am already signed up for 2012. I am always up to a challenge.” Gunter concurred, “Will I do it again? You bet!.” Adding words of encouragement to those who may be thinking about walking, Gunter said, “If you have ever walked the journey of breast cancer with someone, walk the Susan G Komen 3-Day. You can do it.”
A 2012 team is already forming and fundraisers are being planned. “Our first big fundraiser will be Dec. 3.” said Hoekstra. “ It includes a one-stop shop, bake sale, soup and sandwich lunch Hinterland Vineyards, and a hayride ending with a home tour at the Epemas. We are really excited for that day!”