A Son’s 60-Mile Tribute: Meet Derek

At the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, we meet all kinds of wonderful people, who each have their own personal reasons for taking on the extraordinary 60 mile journey. For a young man named Derek, from Issaquah, WA, that reason is his mother, Cheryl, who passed away from breast cancer when Derek was just 14 years old. What’s remarkable about this son walking 60 miles in memory of his mother is that Derek is 18 years old–barely 18, in fact, having just turned the corner into “official” adulthood three weeks before the Komen 3-Day in Seattle–and he signed up to walk completely on his own.susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk seattle 18 years old derek

Derek shared on his 3-Day® fundraising page, “My mother, Cheryl, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July, 1999. Her cancer metastasized in January, 2005. She showed faith, courage, stamina and humor to get through two seizures, a pharmacy error with her chemotherapy infusion (but rescued by an alert nurse and doctor) and many other trials. Though she fought so bravely for many years, the cancer, combined with a staph infection, ultimately took her life on October 9, 2010. I am participating in the 3-Day event not only to raise money to end this wretched disease, but to honor my mother, the living embodiment of a courageous spirit.”

We met up with this inspiring first-time walker on Saturday night at the Seattle 3-Day, where he was hanging out in the dining tent. We’d been encouraged to seek Derek out after several participants told us about the brave, kind young man they’d met on the route, who had registered all on his own, and not only took on the 60-mile challenge, but also raised a total of $4,800, more than double the required minimum.

“My mom walked the 3-Day about 8 years ago, and then she passed away four years ago. I realized I’d never done anything in honor of her, and I remembered she did the 3-Day. I found out I’d be turning 18 just three weeks before, so I’d be eligible to walk alone, and I decided, hey, this is something I really want to do.”

Derek was pleased that fundraising wasn’t too difficult. He emailed family, friends and neighbors, along with everyone who knew his mom, and asked them to keep forwarding his fundraising link to others. Does Derek have any advice for someone struggling with their fundraising? “Try something new to market yourself, brand it differently, create an event,” he said.

Fundraising was one challenge Derek easily overcame, but how about training? Derek also found success with his training, as he goes to the gym regularly, and notes that he knows the limits of his body. In addition to walking, he crosstrained with some long distance runs, and he recently overcame an ankle injury.

Were there any points during Day 1 or Day 2 where the miles were getting tough, we wondered? “Coming into this, I thought it was more of a mental thing after a while. You will be tired, you will be sore, you will be hurting. You need to challenge yourself. We’re walking for people who are fighting cancer; we can walk a couple more miles,” Derek said.

We asked Derek what his experience had been like, coming into the 3-Day as a new, solo walker? “The experience has been amazing. I came into this not knowing anyone here, figuring I’d make friends. It’s been unreal. The support along the way is crazy. It’s been really nice to have people come up to me, saying, ‘You’re kind of young to be doing this,’ and strike up a conversation.”

susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk seattle 18 years old derek and family

Derek (center) with his brother and dad

Derek received many supportive texts and messages to rally him on, and he was looking forward to seeing his friends at cheering stations on the final day of the Seattle 3-Day. By the time we finished chatting, Derek’s father, Kent, and his brother, Ian, had arrived to show their support.

We asked Derek if he had any closing thoughts for those who have yet to embark on their 60-mile journey. His answer filled us with hope, and demonstrates again the amazing bravery, courage and dedication of our 3-Day family: “Think of all the cancer patients out there who are fighting as hard as they can. They don’t have a choice to fight. They just have to go through it. You have a choice. You can go through this, and it will help them. You can do this.”

 

60 Miles, 101 Pounds: Meet Rhonda of the Seattle 3-Day

Beyond the incredible impact your steps and fundraising make toward fighting breast cancer on the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, one of the perks of walking is the gift of fitness. With a dedicated training schedule and long walks, many Komen 3-Day walkers find themselves enjoying a healthier, fitter version of themselves.

And sometimes, that healthier, fitter “you” comes with an extraordinary story. Meet Rhonda, from Maple Valley, Washington, a first-time Seattle walker on Team Tracy. Through her training and preparation for the 3-Day®, Rhonda has lost a remarkable lost 101 pounds. “This is more than just my weight loss story,” said Rhonda. Rhonda decided to make a change when she saw her son was also struggling with his weight, and was being bullied in school. Education was their first step: Rhonda and her son went and saw a nutritionist, and they went to a class to learn about portion sizes, healthy eating, and fitness. “I set a goal every month to change my life. The first goal was to not drink carbonated drinks. I switched over to water and I probably lost 20 pounds off of that goal alone. As I started losing weight I started gaining energy, so I would go for walks,” she said. As Rhonda began to walk, she also began to fall in love with fitness. “The walks were so therapeutic for me that there were times I had to call my daughter and say “It’s too dark, can you come and get me?”

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Rhonda lost 65 pounds, and then found herself at a stopping point as she became comfortable with her changing body. However, somebody made fun of her, and Rhonda found new motivation from that experience. “I went and lost another 20 or 30 pounds, and I was still on the downward trend, and then my boyfriend asked me to marry him. I thought, I gotta lose more weight!” As Rhonda kept losing weight, she also began to really get in shape, noting that when you lose weight, it’s not about just dropping the pounds, it’s also about toning and adjusting to a newer, healthier you.

Rhonda has always wanted to do the 3-Day. “My mom is a double survivor, and my stepmom is a survivor. I always wanted to do the 3-Day but I was never in shape for it,” she said. Rhonda had wanted to do the 3-Day last year but was on vacation, so 2014 was the perfect time to enjoy her first 60-mile adventure. “I’m having a blast!” she said.

Before and After photo courtesy of Rhonda: Rhonda's 'Before' was 86 pounds ago, and she's lost another 15 since the "After" was taken.

Before and After photo courtesy of Rhonda: Rhonda’s ‘Before’ was 86 pounds ago, and she’s lost another 15 since the “After” was taken.

She admits that in addition to adopting healthy habits like eating right, getting enough sleep, drinking water, and exercise, a large part of her success came from hope and believing in herself. She has a tattoo on her wrist that says ‘Believe’ in a lovely black script, and Rhonda said, “When I’m doing planks and I want to give up, I look at my tattoo. Everybody always asks me, ‘believe’ in what? And the answer is myself, or my son, or my daughter, or the tooth fairy. Always believe.”

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What advice can Rhonda offer to somebody who is also looking to make a change to their weight? “A lot of people give up because their diet doesn’t work out. It took me six months to lose my first pound. It was six months of changing everything, and I did it the right way. It wasn’t a gimmick or a pill. Because I taught myself to be healthy, I’ve been able to keep healthy. Don’t give up hope.”

Rhonda’s hope, belief, and endurance transformed her life, but her life wasn’t the only one whose changed. Her son ended up also making healthier lifestyle habits, and is no longer bullied. “He tells me every day, ‘Mom, you changed my life’.”

51 Miles, 51 Years of Marriage: Meet Dennis and Sandy

For Susan G. Komen 3-Day® participants, Day 3 is a big deal. You’ve collectively raised millions of dollars to help end breast cancer. You’ve slept in pink tents. You’ve eaten countless grahamwiches, quenched your thirst with sports drink, cried at the camp show speeches, and showered on a truck. You’ve met amazing new friends and bonded with the old ones. You’ve proven your incredible dedication to working toward a world without breast cancer. And, let’s not forget that you’ve walked an average of 20 miles each day; some walkers reach this point feeling victorious and undefeated, others feel exhausted and ready to quit. But you don’t quit. You keep going. You put one foot after the other, you lean on others for support, maybe you take a quick ride in a sweep van, because you know that by being there, just by being at the 3-Day, your presence means making a very real impact on somebody else’s life.

Dennis and Sandy M. are similar to their fellow Komen 3-Day walkers, but for them, Day 3 on this year’s Philadelphia 3-Day® wasn’t just Day 3. It was their 51st wedding anniversary, and we talked to them this weekend to learn a few lessons about the many ways that their marriage has been just like the 3-Day.

Dennis and Sandy McGee celebrated 51 years of Marriage on Day 3 of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day

Dennis and Sandy McGee celebrated 51 years of Marriage on Day 3 of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day

Sandy and Dennis met when they were teenagers; Sandy was 16 and Denny was nine days shy of turning 18. It was the summer of 1962. Sandy recalls, “On a Saturday night, my cousin invited me to go on a babysitting job with her and meet the guy who my cousin fancied, who lived downstairs. When we met, we both liked each other and started seeing each other on the weekends and talking on the phone.” Dennis bought her an engagement ring for Christmas, and they were married on September 14, 1963.

Like many newlyweds, the start of their marriage had a few trying times. “We were very poor and only had six wedding gifts, three of which we could not use. One, as I recall, was a shower curtain, and the apartment we rented had no shower, just a tub,” Sandy laughs. “We had some really hard times. We didn’t have much of anything. What we did have was each other and our family.”

After five years of marriage, Sandy was pregnant with Tammy, their first daughter, and Dennis had been drafted into the army. He was wounded in July of 1969 and came close to death. “He is my hero, and the most humble man I know. He is my best friend,” said Sandra.

Four and a half decades later, these best friends decided to walk the 3-Day after seeing the passion that their daughter Tammy had about her 3-Day experience. “When she speaks of the women she has met while walking, her eyes just light up. After I heard her speak at a fundraiser, I said to myself, ‘I want to know that passion, I want to meet those women,’” said Sandy. Sandy and Tammy walked together in the Tampa Bay 3-Day last year and Dennis, even though he wasn’t registered to walk, trained with Sandy and Tammy, logging over 500 training miles. This year, he decided to walk the 3-Day. “I figured if I was going that far, I should do the walk and get credit for it,” said Dennis. We caught up with Tammy, who has been married for 22 years herself, and she said “Every day they just want to spend more time together. They still hold hands. All during our training walks, they hold hands.”

Dennis found this rose on Day 2 of the 3-Day, and carried it from the final pit stop to camp where his darling Sandy was waiting.

Dennis found this rose on Day 2 of the 3-Day, and carried it from the final pit stop to camp where his darling Sandy was waiting.

How exactly, is 51 years of marriage like the 3-Day? “Well, in marriage as well as in the walk, you just keep going and supporting each other even when the going gets tough and the end seems so far off,” said Dennis. “Sometimes it’s just one foot after the other, and sometimes you are having so much fun you don’t even know you’re walking or how far you have walked. Our marriage is like that,” said Sandy. “Just keep walking. It’s going to be not so fun sometimes, then boom – the very best time you’ve ever had happens.”

Sandy and Dennis both said that a good marriage is about always treating each other with respect and kindness. “When people ask me where the better half is at, my answer is that there is no better half in our relationship. We are fully equals. You get back what you put out,” said Dennis. Their equality is obvious when Sandy replies with her own response, that one of the most important things in marriage is to show each other respect. “I can honestly say the first man I ever dated turned out to be my soulmate. I love him more today than I did 50 years ago.”

Sandy and Dennis at Mile 51 of the Philly 3-Day, celebrating 51 years of marriage. Photo courtesy of their daughter, Tammy S.

Sandy and Dennis at Mile 51 of the Philly 3-Day, celebrating 51 years of marriage. Photo courtesy of their daughter, Tammy S.

As they stopped at Mile 51 to celebrate 51 incredible years of marriage, the unbreakable bond between Sandy and Dennis is apparent as they lovingly embrace. At this moment, time has stopped for the couple, and here, at Mile 51, it’s all about love, endurance, and respect. As Dennis said, “The trials that you conquer together will make the relationship stronger and the commitment to each other deeper. Do not dwell on past problems and mistakes, but learn from them, and move forward as a pair.”

We were honored today to share their story; one that we can all learn from as a true lesson in endurance, teamwork, and commitment, proven to be unshakeable after 51 amazing years.

This photo shows Sandy and Dennis 10 years ago, with a favorite quote: "If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I would never have to live a day without you." -Winnie the Pooh

This photo shows Sandy and Dennis 10 years ago, with a favorite quote: “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I would never have to live a day without you.” -Winnie the Pooh