Coaches’ Favorite Moments from 2015

The staff of Susan G. Komen 3-Day® spend the entire year supporting walkers and crew members from all corners of the country, and when the event season begins in August, many of these coaches also hit the road and work the Komen 3-Day events themselves. We asked the 3-Day® coaches to share some of their favorite moments or memories from the 2015 3-Day season.

Ann (Michigan Local Events Coach) – My favorite moment this year happened on Friday night in Michigan. The sun was setting and camp was starting to quiet down. I ran into a new walker who I had met once at an event in Cleveland. She was hanging out on some of our comfy 3-Day Main Street furniture. I grabbed her a mocktail from the Lounge, sat down with her and just chatted for a while. It was a quiet moment after a really long day (for both of us) and it felt so nice to just sit and connect with a walker while she relaxed and geared up for Day 2. 11855761_10207558287185470_3756579876611405295_n

Robin (Volunteer Operations Manager) – I was serving as the caboose in San Diego.  It was a sunny day and I had forgotten to bring my hat out on the route with me.  Route Safety crew member Dan Sinclair saw that I needed a hat and then gave me a cute pink fedora.  It’s so great to have such wonderful volunteers looking out for the walkers, the staff and fellow crew.

Robin looking "fedorable" with her family in San Diego

Robin looking “fedorable” with her family in San Diego

Stephanie (Twin Cities Local Events Coach) – I was the Route Coordinator with the amazing Pit Stop 3 crew in Seattle. On Day 2 our stop was located at a church which offers a safe haven to homeless people in the Seattle area who live out of their cars, allowing them to park in their lot throughout the day and at night. When we arrived at the location early in the morning we were all humbled by what we saw. As we were setting up the pit stop, 4 small children hopped out of one van and walked into the church to brush their teeth for the day. Eventually several more of the car owners were waking up and doing the same. It certainly made me pause and think of my own family back in St. Paul, who at that very moment were enjoying a warm house, a pantry full of food and a Saturday schedule of soccer games and friends. As a crew team, we decided to do something when we closed down. We set up a buffet of leftover fruits, sandwiches, grahamwiches and more on the church steps for these families. We eventually finished packing up and headed out, and halfway back to my hotel, I received a text from my Crew Captain. She said it was like Christmas morning at the church. After the 3-Day people left, suddenly car doors opened and the homeless families walked up to the food we left and began eating. More cars arrived ‘home’ to the church parking lot and joined in as well. I didn’t know whether to cry or be happy when I heard this. I think I did both. Needless to say I couldn’t be prouder of what the crew did that day. It was their job to help and support the 3-Day community, but they ended up helping so many more people than that.

Stephanie and Seattle's Pit Stop 3 minions

Stephanie and Seattle’s Pit Stop 3 minions

 Nanette (San Diego Crew & Volunteer Coordinator) – Out of all of the events last year, I choose Philadelphia. Why? Because who doesn’t love standing in the freezing rain for 8 hours? Actually, it’s because I think the connection I made with the lunch crew I was working with was incredible. They worked amazingly well. The captain was fantastic and we had a lot of assistance from long-time lunch crew members. Seeing everyone working in harmony and creating lasting friendships was so special, and those relationships were only strengthened by a good rain. The cheerfulness in the faces made up for the lack of sunshine in the skies. philly lunch

Joanne (Philadelphia Local Events Coach) – In 2015, I had the pleasure of meeting Deb Craig. She and her friends (Philly Phinz) are HUGE supporters of the 3-Day and host their own private cheering station each year on Saturday. Deb and I communicated for months before the event and she was very anxious to meet me. So on that Saturday, I swung by their cheering station and met Deb and her clan. They had a whole elaborate set-up with a tent, lots of food and the most amazing hot apple cider for the chilliest of days. What a fantastic idea! She was thrilled that I took the time to come visit. The more amazing part about Deb is that she has Multiple Sclerosis and never complains. She has the cheeriest disposition and the smile never leaves her face. I can’t wait to see her again in 2016!

Joanne (right) with Deb in Philly

Joanne (right) with Deb in Philly

Molly (Local Operations Director) – Most of the event season I’m in a role that’s behind the scenes, but this year I got to play the challenging but fun role of Caboose in Dallas/Fort Worth for the second year in a row. As Caboose my job is to remain with walkers at the back of the pack and ensure that each stop along the way, and ultimately each day’s route, closes on time. While it can be difficult at times, the magical moments as Caboose far outweigh any of the challenges you can experience. This year I had the pleasure of walking alongside one of our 7-city series walkers. I’d heard of Christa along the way, but getting the opportunity to walk beside her and hear about her tremendous story directly from her was an honor and a true reminder of just how important the work we do on the 3-Day truly is. Christa is planning on walking in all 7 cities again next year and I already can’t wait to see her.

Christa with Caboose Molly

Christa with Caboose Molly

Paula (Seattle Participant Coach) – Our 83 year-old 3-Day walker, George Nummer, registered for the Seattle 3-Day in 2015, and we became phone friends after his first call to the coaches months before the event. In our conversations, he always ended the call with a reminder to “save a dance” for him. He found me on Saturday in Seattle, and we shared that dance and the wonderful camaraderie that 3-Day participants all know so well. I learned that George was never a dancer until his first 3-Day, when his fellow walkers invited him to dance with them. These days, George is the first one on the dance floor, and he had found me for one more dance at the end of Day 3. He had more energy than most after our strenuous 60-mile journey ended. George, I will always save a dance for you! paula_george

Gina (Michigan Crew & Volunteer Coordinator) – I always love seeing the young people and their involvement, be it as participants or supporters, as I think they are the future of this event. It’s really cool to see the Youth Corps who go on to walk in the event and continue their 3-Day legacy.

Gina with her biggest little fan

Gina with her biggest little fan

Jennifer (Michigan Participant Coach) – I love seeing the same people on the 3-Day year after year. In 2015, two ladies whom I had gotten to know well as walkers the year before were both participating in the Twin Cities 3-Day–Karen as a walker again and Stephanie as a crew member. I was the staff person assigned to Pit Stop 4 and Stephanie was there to help and cheer on walkers. We were catching up we caught a glimpse of Karen coming down the street and knew she would be in the pit stop any minute. Quickly, we formed a plan: Stephanie went into one of the porta-potties to hide, and when Karen came into the stop, I made a silly production out of saying I had ‘reserved’ a porta-potty just for her. She was laughing but it worked and she went right into the same one that Stephanie was hiding in.  There was a scream and then all three of us burst out laughing.  It was a great moment and I am pretty sure Karen is probably more cautious when she enters porta-potties now.

Jennifer with Karen and Stephanie (outside a port-potty, thank goodness)

Jennifer with Karen and Stephanie (outside a port-potty, thank goodness)

The Twin Cities 3-Day was also when I made more great memories with the rest of the 3-Day staff. I work with some of the most amazing people on the planet. I love my job, but for most of the year I am in my home office with only a phone and a computer to connect me with these amazing co-workers, so when event season comes around I am thrilled to be able to see them face-to-face and work alongside them. On Saturday, I got a lot of extra help at pit stop 4 (we were expecting storms, so we had to make sure the walkers all made it in and out of the last stop safely before the weather got too bad). Looking back, I don’t think I can remember another time where so many route staff were gathered at the same spot. At one point, we found ourselves all lined up, trying to take a very serious picture of all of us and we just couldn’t do it. I know that many pictures were snapped but none of us could hold a straight, serious face for more than a couple of seconds. The picture included here is one of my all-time favorites.  TC 1

Gayla (Dallas/Fort Worth Local Events Coach) – After participating in or staffing 19 3-Day events since 2005, the 2015 Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day was a very different experience for me, inspiring on a totally different level. It was the first time I was a speaker at the Opening Ceremony in front of thousands of people. I’ve cheered walkers out of Opening Ceremony, but this year I got caught up dancing them out with Pink Hair Guy, Bill Wetsel. Day 1 dancingThe interaction was very special as I passed out pink Promise Ribbons to walkers, trying to meet every single person and thank them for all of their hard work training and fundraising. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many hugs in my life. Day 1 ribbonsI think the highlight of 2015 was when I announced Ralph Morriss as the Local Impact Award winner in Dallas/Fort Worth. He had no idea and was very surprised when I said his name after talking about what “this person” had accomplished over the years for the 3-Day. The dining tent absolutely erupted with cheers! Gives me goosebumps and makes me smile every time I think about it. ralph morris award

Staci (San Diego Participant Coach) – I have to say that finally being face-to-face with Sally Dunbar at the Opening Ceremony in San Diego was a phenomenal start to the event weekend and a favorite lasting memory from this year. Sally is a particularly hard-working, enthusiastic and determined out-of-town team captain. She recruited over 50 first-time 3-Dayers to be a part of her team. We’d exchanged a bunch of emails throughout the season, brainstormed team gear, cheered on the team milestones (each surpassed by the next momentous accomplishment!) and now here we were – at the Opening Ceremony. My first thoughts were: “Wow, Sally’s really tall! I see her team is all wearing purple, and they all have fancy headbands. And they’re all up front near the stage!” My next thought (and this is the one that gave me my first chills of the weekend) was “Little do they know the journey that awaits them.” As I looked at that swath of purple I knew without a doubt that these folks were about to share the weekend of a lifetime. It doesn’t get any better than that.

San Diego coaches Kim (left) and Staci (right)

San Diego coaches Kim (left) and Staci (right)

Kim (San Diego Local Events Coach) – There were too many great memories from 2015, how can I pick just one? Going through all my pictures helps me relive all the amazing moments again. In Michigan, I loved working with the amazing 3-Day team before first event, getting ready to begin a fantastic 3-Day season. MI 15 After that, it was off to the Twin Cities, and I especially loved watching Chrissy Mathews encourage and cheer people in to the pit stop with her unstoppable energy (and getting a fun selfie with her and a fellow staffer). TC 5 Day 2 in Twin Cities was quite an experience, with having to shut down pit stop 4 a little early because of thunderstorms (and tornado watches – not what this California girl is used to!), but we still found time for some good laughs before things got too crazy.

(Editor's note: Kim and Jennifer were not aware that they both sent this as one of the favorite memories!)

(Editor’s note: Kim and Jennifer were not aware that they both sent this as one of the favorite memories!)

Seattle had some special moments, like seeing one survivor take care of another, 2015-09-19 08.19.53 and getting to meet these 4 wonderful women, 3 of them walkers and 1 crew. 2015-09-20 08.31.47 - Copy And of course, there was time for a lot of silliness with co-workers, like this day when Nanette and I got a little nutty preparing pit stop equipment. MI 3

“The 3-Day Saved My Life” – The Story of Pink Santa

If you participated in the Susan G. Komen Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day this year (or, for that matter, in any number of Komen 3-Day events over the past ten+ years), chances are you spotted Mike Wingo. If the name doesn’t ring a jingle bell, perhaps you know him by another identity: Pink Santa. Mike and his alter-ego have become well-known around the world of the 3-Day®. But the jolly elf who hugs and high-fives participants in his pink suit and hat is more than a cheerleader, and his is a moving example of the strength of the 3-Day community.IMG_6119

In the early 2000s, Mike was not doing very well. “I was coming off a divorce and I was not in a good place personally. I tell people that hate was my cancer because I was mad at the world and mad at everybody.”

Around that time, a friend invited Mike to get involved with the 3-Day. “I didn’t know anything about it, had never heard of it. I didn’t know anything about breast cancer. And the sad part about it is I thought, ‘It’s going to be perfect because I’ve got this bad attitude about life and I’m going to be surrounded by all these people who have the same attitude because they’re pissed about getting cancer.’”

Wanting to stay in the background, Mike registered for the Gear and Tent crew, and he quickly realized that his prediction about what to expect was totally wrong. “I got to the event and it wasn’t anything like what I thought… I saw a young lady who was bald, obviously she had cancer, and she was smiling and laughing and joking around. And it shamed me.” All these years later, Mike still gets teary talking about it. “Because I was relatively healthy, I had 3 beautiful kids, I had a family that supported me, and it just shamed me. I was in a tent, somewhere in Fort Worth, TX, and I just said, I want to change. Instead of being a discourager, I want to be an encourager. Instead of trying to bring you down, I’m going to lift you up. A cheerleader for life.”

Mike came to that decision—he calls it an epiphany—and credits the 3-Day for bringing about such a profound change. He had caught the 3-Day “bug,” as he describes it. He shared another story, about a woman he met in Dallas in 2005 whom he had seen struggling all weekend long. He interacted with her several times throughout the event, helping her with her bags and setting up her tent, motivating her and encouraging her whenever he saw her. When he ran into her after the Closing Ceremony, “She held my face and said, ‘You have earned your place in heaven.’ She drove off and I was standing there just bawling. That’s when it struck me that as just an individual, doing things that I didn’t think were very big, I could really make a difference to somebody.

“I claim that the 3-Day saved my life. Had I gone down the path that I was going, I certainly don’t know what that would’ve led to, but it wasn’t good.”

Mike, who lives in Oklahoma, considers the Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day to be his home event, and the Gear and Tent crew team to be his family. In 2007, he branched out and started traveling to other 3-Day cities (Chicago, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Atlanta) to crew, always returning to the Dallas/Fort Worth event as well.

So how did Mike’s passion and dedication for the 3-Day give birth to his secret identity as Pink Santa? “In one of the years here in Dallas, I think it might’ve been 2006, the 3-Day was on Halloween weekend, so we all came up with crazy costumes. I play Santa in my hometown, so I had a Santa suit, and I thought, I’ll just dress up as Santa. It was a hit. Everybody loved it, everybody had to have pictures.”

So Mike continued to wear the Santa suit for a couple of years, even when it wasn’t Halloween. It came to be expected. Then one of his Gear and Tent crewmates put the idea in Mike’s head that his Santa suit really should be pink. “She said it for a couple years, then one day she called me out of the blue and said let’s meet up.” This friend, who is a breast cancer survivor, took Mike’s measurements and later presented him with a custom-made pink Santa suit. From that day forward, Mike doesn’t go to a single 3-Day without it. Mike’s routine now is to join up with the Lunch crew on Day 2 of whatever event he’s at, lend an extra pair of hands while they set up in the morning, then when the walkers start arriving, he puts on his Pink Santa suit and cheers them in.

Mike has crewed the 3-Day 20 times, but the 2015 event in Dallas/Fort Worth marked a milestone for him: he walked the 3-Day for the first time.IMG_5824

What compelled Pink Santa to decide to walk after so many years on the crew? “I have a friend of 40 years, I met him in 6th grade.” Mike gets choked up again thinking about his friend. “Last year in September he got diagnosed with lung cancer. So that started me thinking, I need to do something else, something bigger.” The “something bigger” for Mike was finally taking the leap into walking the 60 miles of the 3-Day. “When I first got involved with the 3-Day, the fundraising intimidated me. I come from a small town, it’s very middle class, there aren’t a lot of big businesses around, so that intimidated me. So I thought I’d sidestep the fundraising and be a crew member. Well that lasted one or two years, then I started fundraising as a crew member. Over the years, I’ve gotten a pretty good support group, and I average a couple thousand dollars a year as a crew member.” Sadly, Mike’s friend passed away the day after Thanksgiving, 2014, but by then, Mike was already well on his way to honoring him as a 3-Day walker. “I was fully funded by the first of the year. I just had tremendous support, people knowing it was my first time to walk and everything.” Tremendous support is putting it mildly; in 2015, Mike raised over $3,600, and he has a lifetime fundraising total of more than $26,000.

You’ve probably guessed by now that yes, the Pink Santa suit was part of Mike’s 60-mile journey in Dallas/Fort Worth this year. “When I crew, Pink Santa comes out on Day 2, Saturday. When I decided to walk, that was the first question everybody asked: ‘What about Pink Santa?’ I said, well, I’m Pink Santa, so if I’m going to walk, I guess Pink Santa is going to walk on Saturday.” Mike got a special surprise from his old Gear and Tent teammates as well: they all wore “Pink Santa’s Helper” t-shirts and elf ears. “I walked around the hill and saw them all lined up and oh, it was just amazing.”IMG_5720

To say that the 3-Day has been a big part of Mike’s life is an understatement, just as it is for so many 3-Dayers. “It’s been a blessing. I wish I could quit tomorrow, because that would mean that a cure has been found, but I tell people, as long as there’s fight in me, I’m in this fight.”

The 2015 Susan G. Komen 3-Day Series, By the Numbers

Seven locations. 420 miles. More than 7,000 walkers, 2,000+ crew members, and countless lives touched. Let’s look at our 2015 Susan G. Komen 3-Day® Series, by the numbers.

846Michigan 3-Day
Donations: $1.9 Million
Walkers: 650
Crew: 300
See the Michigan 3-Day Photo Album Here!

2015_3day_tc_gf-162Twin Cities 3-Day
Donations: $1.6 Million
Walkers: 550
Crew: 200
See the Twin Cities 3-Day Photo Album Here!

2015_3day_sea_gf-19Seattle 3-Day
Donations
$2.1 Million
Walkers: 750
Crew: 250
See the Seattle 3-Day Photo Album Here!

2015_3day_phl_gf-366Philadelphia 3-Day
Donations: $2.7 Million
Walkers: 1,000
Crew: 300
See the Philadelphia 3-Day Photo Album Here!

2015_3day_atl_gf-716Atlanta 3-Day
Donations: $2.2 Million
Walkers: 800
Crew: 300
See the Atlanta 3-Day Photo Album Here!

2015_sgk3day_dallas_gf_414Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day
Donations: $2.8 Million
Walkers: 1,100
Crew: 325
See the Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day Photo Album Here!

2015_3day_sd_gf-134San Diego 3-Day
Donations: $5.9 Million
Walkers: 2,200
Crew: 350
See the San Diego 3-Day Photo Album Here!

 

The fundraising totals listed above represent how much was raised by the time each event began, and we’re thrilled to share that every single Komen 3-Day continued bringing in donation dollars even after the last walker left each Closing Ceremony. With those continued donations, plus matching gifts and series gifts, the 2015 3-Day® Series has exceeded its goal of $20 million raised to end breast cancer.

There’s not a number big enough to calculate our gratitude to you, our 3-Day family, for your part in the fight.