The Susan G. Komen 3-Day

“Often times while walking, words were not even being said. It was a spiritual moment in a sense– telling yourself, you can do it, thinking about how tired you are, but then realizing that no matter how tired and sore I was, this was minimal compared to what a cancer patient goes through.” Joy Stanghelle, Hotties-4-Hooters 2011.

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!”

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Three days. 60 miles. Blisters to last a lifetime.

All of us Hotties on day one!

It was August of 2010 when I committed to walk in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day event as part of the Hotties-4-Hooters team. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I only knew that I wanted to walk to support my friend Tanya who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in May and also for my coworker Gloria who had been diagnosed in July and died a couple of days after I committed to the walk. I had a year to train and raise the required $2,300. No worries, right?

I should have learned in my 42 years that anytime I think something this big is going to be a piece of cake, that it won’t be. It’s usually quite the opposite. Three days of non-stop walking would have been much easier if I actually stopped to think that it might be really, really difficult. It may have been easier if I had stopped to think that my aging, overweight body might not sail through it like I was still 20. Why follow the recommended training schedule, because really, how bad could it be? We’re just walking, right? Piece of cake.

Day One:

We stayed in a luxury hotel, you know, the kind with white, fluffy robes, the night before the opening ceremonies. Knowing that we were going to be sleeping in tents for the next two nights and using port-a-potties for three days made the stay extra special.

Up way before sunrise, we set out for the opening festivities–  a bit anxious for what was to come. There were a few in our group that had walked before but most of us were newbies to the event. Excitement filled the air as thousands of walkers in pink lined the sidewalks as we set out on our journey. Our group of 20 quickly separated and grouped off according to our collective paces. I was lucky enough to “collect” with a group that was content on finding a steady pace, taking in the sights, and resting quite frequently. In other words? We were the “slow, but fun” group.

Oh yeah, we had fun!

The route on day one was spectacular! We walked through some beautiful residential areas, the Lake of the Isles, around Lake Calhoun, through the sculpture park, historic downtown Minneapolis, and along the Mississippi. We even got to see the 35W Bridge Memorial which had recently been unveiled.

Rest stops every couple of miles provided food, water, band-aids, Gatorade, and the glorious mini-biffs. There were sweep vans along the route to pick up walkers that were struggling and also to move the stragglers along as there was a time schedule every day.  We moved through day one rather uneventfully. By the time we reached camp we were sore and tired but feeling alright.

Wanting to feel clean and refreshed before supper, I grabbed my change of clothes and shower gear and headed for the showers. I had been told to make sure to eat before showering, horror stories of people passing out in the showers had been told, but I felt just fine. I could wait. Lots of walkers were. Piece of cake.

The shower line was only about 15-20 minutes long but a funny thing happened the longer I waited. I began to feel warm, then a little woozy, then a little warmer and a little more woozy. Finally, it was my turn for the showers. I walked up the steps and suddenly the steamy confines of the shower room hit me like a brick wall. A few expletives no doubt flew out of my mouth as I was sure I was heading for faint city.

I quickly found my stall, leaned up against the wall and repeated to myself over and over and over– I will not pass out and be hauled out of here naked, I will not pass out and be hauled out of here naked, I will not pass out and be hauled out of here naked… It took about five minutes but I finally managed to turn the shower on COLD and hopped in. It was only by sheer will and the grace of God that I stayed on my feet and was able to walk (barely) out of there fully clothed and not lying flat, naked on a stretcher.

I had found out the hard way that dehydration is a beast, I vowed to drink incessantly the rest of the weekend, and by the end of day one I had crossed “running a marathon” off my bucket list. After just walking 20 miles and nearly passing out, I decided that anybody that would want to run that far and more, willingly, had to be crazy.

Day Two:

Was there a day two? Quite frankly, the whole morning of day two is actually quite a blur to me. Our group was definitely feeling the pain of day one, most had several blisters and one member had developed a very painful foot (we found out later that night that some bones in her foot had separated, yikes!) But, we made it to lunch and we were happy to be half way through the day. A few miles after lunch though, the miles caught up with us and we decided it was in the best interest of the group to cut our losses, hop the bus back to camp, and regroup for the final day. This was a decision that none of us regretted even though it meant we’d be a few miles short of the full 60 miles. We made it back to camp, got in line for mini massages, and psyched ourselves up for the final day.

Mini massages after day two. Ahhhh….

 
Day Three:

My worst (yes, worse than the shower incident) physical struggles came early that morning. I fell behind my group and actually thought at one point that I wasn’t going to make it– literally. While passing out on the sidewalk didn’t sound like fun, it was definitely not as horrifying as passing out in the shower so I decided to somehow push through it and keep going. Finally, about a half mile before rest stop number two, I hailed the sweep van ready to give it up. I had walked by somebody being hauled away in an ambulance and I decided that’s not how I wanted my morning or the end of my three days to go.

A funny thing happened at the rest stop though, I discovered that Bio-freeze is not just a pain-relieving gel in a tube, it’s actually a pain-relieving gel sent from heaven. I iced my throbbing knees, legs, and feet, slathered on the freeze, and downed a handful of ibuprofen. A salty snack and some Gatorade and I was starting to feel like I might live. Only 13 more miles to go! Whoo hoo! Bring it on! By this time I had also put “running a marathon” back on my bucket list because running 26 miles at one shot had to be a piece of cake compared to this, right?

At the lunch stop a few miles later, I reconnected with my walking partners and we successfully completed the remaining nine miles or so of the walk. I popped ibuprofen like candy and re-Biofreezed every chance I could but I made it. We made it. There is no way I would have finished without the support of the wonderful women I was walking with. I still get the giggles when I think of some of our conversations that lifted us through the tough spots and kept us focused on the finish line.

Most of us went home with blisters and pain in places we didn’t know possible. One teammate actually did pass out on day two and spent a couple of hours in the med tent being re-hydrated with IV fluids. Another was sure she would be losing a few toenails at some point and others had the absolute biggest blisters that I have ever seen. My dear friend, who incidentally was the one that passed out, was examining her blisters on the way home when her son leaned over to me and said, “I can see the sunlight through mom’s blister.” That said it all.

As for me, my legs from the knees on down were swollen for over three weeks. Last weekend at a 5k walk/run I discovered that I had a couple of blisters that still haven’t completely healed. It’s been two months! Also, unfortunately by the looks of it, I may still lose a toenail. Luckily, it’s not sandal season.

For all of us, the 3-Day was an experience we’ll never forget. Besides our survivors, a few in our group made some pretty big personal sacrifices to go to the 3-Day. We all had our own personal reasons for participating in such an important event. Some will walk again, some won’t, but I think we’ll all somehow stay involved in the fight against breast cancer.

We also all knew that the temporary aches and pains we felt were nothing compared to the battles that cancer patients face. Survivors and their families lined the trails of the 3-day cheering us on, thanking us for walking and for supporting them. Sometimes, it was just the families with pictures of their lost loved ones- that’s when you had to choke back the tears. Their spirit made it easy to keep going despite the physical pain we were feeling at the moment.

Besides our new-found appreciation for indoor plumbing, we all took away our own experiences from the walk that have no doubt forever changed us for the better some how. For that, I will always be grateful.

To the Hotties of 2012, piece of cake! To the Hotties of 2011, thanks for the fun and memories. Our journey will be with me for a lifetime. So will my blisters.

After a MUCH need cold beverage at a St. Paul restaurant just before we crossed the finish line.

Life begins…

 “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
– Neale Donald Walsch

I watched my husband face his biggest fear on Friday when he boarded a plane for New Jersey. Flying has terrified him for years even though he’s never been on a plane, known anybody that has ever been hurt on an airplane, or even known anybody that has had any sort of trouble at an airport! His fear, coupled with other anxieties, has been gripping. Over the years he has missed out on several opportunities for travel with family and friends because of his fear of flight. It took our daughter moving to a college in New Jersey this fall for him to finally conquer that fear. When he set foot on that plane he catapulted himself right out of his comfort zone and I can’t help but think life will be just a little different for him in the future. He has a whole new world in front of him now that he has burst out of his comfort zone and faced his fears head on.

The hub as we were about to take flight!

When I first read the Walsch quote a few weeks ago I immediately jotted it down in my journal. What a great piece of wisdom and so completely true. It really applied to the hub and his fear of flying. I then thought back to the times in my life when I’ve pushed beyond what I thought I was capable of and how incredible I felt afterward. This quote captures the essence of that feeling.

I wish that every person, especially those with anxieties, would find the end of their comfort zone. I wish that everyone could experience their life to its fullest- whatever their fullest may be. They would find out that a funny thing happens when you finally conquer something you once thought incredibly impossible. Your comfort zone moves up a notch, your world gets a little bigger, and you begin to see things just a little differently. The impossible becomes the possible and you begin to wonder, “What’s next?”

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  I am hoping that quote will help to catapult me to the next level in my comfort zone. There are some goals I have set for myself and once I attain them, I know my life will be very different from that point on. It’s kind of scary to think about sometimes. With luck though,  I will be able to rocket out of my zone and then I’ll be able be able to ask “What’s next?” What about you?