2014 Michigan 3-Day Wrap-up

We had a rainy start to the week in Michigan this past week, but the clouds parted and the Susan G. Komen 3-Day® opened on Friday with a spectacular morning filled with color and life. Nine hundred walkers and over 300 crew members arrived at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, and were greeted with a new look to the Komen 3-Day Opening Ceremony set-up. Many bright-eyed 3-Dayers quickly took advantage of the photo opps in front of our new ceremony banners (to get a peek at the many shots that were taken, check out the hashtags #MI3Day and #The3Day on Instagram). The Opening Ceremony also had some new elements, including a lovely photo tribute to those loved ones we’ve lost to breast cancer. It was a powerful homage that filled everyone with a motivating passion to hit the ground moving on the first day of the first 3-Day® of 2014.susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk blog michigan 2014 opening ceremony photo tribute

The Day 1 route took walkers on a 22-mile loop from Opening back to camp at the same location, but the route was anything but boring. With beautiful strolls through the neighborhoods of Novi, Farmington and Farmington Hills, walkers were treated to amazing themed pit stops and grab & go’s, and even a Las Vegas-themed lunch stop. Back at camp, the 3-Day community was deeply moved by 32 year old Meghan Malley, the Komen Detroit Co-Chair for Young Survivor and Metastatic Breast Cancer Initiatives, who spoke in the camp show about Komen’s commitment to expanding research into the cures for all breast cancers, including late-stage. You could feel the impact of her speech hanging in the air.

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Meghan Malley with Susan G. Komen rep Norm Bowling

Day 2 was another 22-mile loop out and back from camp, but with new and different highlights than Day 1. Supporters came out in droves to the cheering stations in downtown Northville and Plymouth, where the famous “pink fountain” provided an unforgettable backdrop for photos and reunions with supporters. There were some beautiful spans of route going through the nature areas along Hines Drive, and walkers were given some of the most enthusiastic welcomes we’ve ever seen, courtesy of three local football teams who came out to cheer the walkers into camp.

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Supporters came out to Northville on Saturday morning to cheer (for no one in particular?).

And before we knew it, Day 3 was upon us, and the walkers’ sights were focused on reaching the 60-mile prize. After a short bus ride to the route, walkers were greeted by nearly 300 youth cheerleaders from local teams and leagues, who formed a pink pom-pom-lined human tunnel stretching the length of a football field. Further up the route, friends and family came out to set up dozens of private cheering stations all along the lovely Hines Drive walkway (thankfully no longer under water!).

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Dozens of local cheer squads lined the route on Sunday morning.

Closing Ceremony was emotional as always, as we celebrate the magnificent accomplishment of 60 miles walked and $2.4 million raised by Michigan 3-Day participants. Dr. Sheri, as well as the ceremony participants from Opening on Friday, reminded us that we’ve made incredible strides in our fight, but we will never give up until we have put an end to breast cancer. The journey ahead—six more 3-Day events, 360 more miles, millions more steps—is a challenging one, but one that the 3-Day family will meet with passion, dedication and unwavering fortitude. We can’t wait to share it with you.susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk blog michigan 2014 day 3 cheerleaders

Sparkles of Hope Inspiring Others to Shine

The Susan G. Komen Michigan 3-Day team Sparkles of Hope are hard to miss. Their dazzling enthusiasm and energy are enough to capture the attention of their fellow Michigan 3-Day participants, to say nothing of their glittery team couture. This is a group of ladies who literally cover each other (and any bystander who wants to get in on the action, including this blogger) with glitter spray before walking, but even without the artificial body bling, they bring an inspiring light of their own to the Komen 3-Day.

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2014 Michigan team Sparkles of Hope. They don’t sweat, they SPARKLE!

I spoke with team captain Lindsey L., a native of the Detroit metro area who, at just 24 years old is already a 5-time veteran of the 3-Day®. Lindsey first decided to walk in 2009 when her mom Loretta (now affectionately known as “Mama Sparkle”) was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 47. Lindsey was in her freshman year at Michigan State, and she shared how difficult it was to be away from her mom while she underwent treatment. Never one to let a feeling of helplessness take over, Lindsey registered for the Michigan 3-Day and formed the first Sparkles of Hope team with half a dozen supportive friends. She met her fundraising minimum early (“You just have to ask everybody.”), and surprised her mom in the hospital, telling her that she had started a 3-Day team and would be walking in her honor that summer. “I think she was shocked that I did all that work!” Lindsey says with a laugh.

What could have been a one-time event for Lindsey and Sparkles of Hope became much more than that. She began working directly with the Susan G. Komen Mid-Michigan Affiliate, and it was there that she met future Sparkles of Hope teammates, including Sydney T. Around the same time that Lindsey’s mom was fighting her disease, Sydney’s mom lost her own 10 year battle with breast cancer. Sydney was 18. This year, Sydney is part of the Young Women Walking program (along with two other Sparkles of Hope teammates), and appeared in the Michigan 3-Day Opening Ceremony, where she held a photo of her mom. Sydney shared, “I walk in memory of my mom and in celebration of my grandmother, who is a 47 year survivor.” This is actually Sydney’s third 3-Day event, and while work commitments kept her from walking the entire three days this year, she knows she will be back for the full event next year. She had this advice for anyone thinking about doing the 3-Day: “It’s a powerful experience, and you’ll be glad if you try. Just being near the community will keep you going. If you’re training and you can’t make it 10 miles, you’ll see that when you’re here, the community pulls you up. It’s not about the miles, it’s not about walking every step. It’s about raising the money and being here as part of the community. Hearing the stories. Your participation is valuable. It’s so important.”

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Sydney, with a photo of her mom

Another Sparkles of Hope walker, Kirsten P., was the top fundraiser for Young Women Walking in Michigan this year, raising nearly twice the required minimum. Kirsten has walked the full 3-Day with Sparkles of Hope before (in 2012 and 2013), but like Sydney, was unable to walk all three days this year because of work obligations. She said, “I felt sad that I couldn’t do the whole thing this year, but I couldn’t do nothing! Young Women Walking was a great way for me to still be involved. I was able to go cheer yesterday, and it was cool to see it from the other side, but I will definitely be back for the whole thing next year. Every second is amazing!”

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Young Women Walking Top Fundraiser Kirsten, and Sparkles of Hope team captain Lindsey

Nine of the twelve Sparkles of Hope team members are under the age of 25, making them, on average, one of the youngest teams on the Michigan event. When I pointed out that breast cancer has not always been considered a young woman’s issue (thankfully, that thinking is changing with increased awareness and education, and programs like the 3-Day’s Young Women Walking), “Captain Sparkle” Lindsey spoke openly and passionately about the Sparkles’ place in the pink world. “We’re all in our early 20s, and every one of us has been affected by breast cancer.” She points out her own Sparkles teammate Sarah K., who is a 29 year old survivor herself, and continues, “I started walking for my mom, and that was my only connection, but every single year, we hear more and more stories. We literally can’t stop because the stories keep coming, and aren’t stopping.” The emotion in her voice takes over, and you can tell that this is a young woman who knows how powerful she and other “pink soldiers” her age can be. “We can make a difference, even though we’re young. We are making a difference by educating others. We know how important it is to stay healthy, to get checked, and how important the work and research are that Susan G. Komen is doing. We know it’s such a commitment to raise money for the 3-Day, but we know that the message we can pass along to other people our age is just as important.”

Two Sisters, Crew Sisters

When you start talking to Susan G. Komen Michigan 3-Day crew members Janine and Laurie, it doesn’t take long before you can tell without a doubt that they’re sisters. It’s not just the similarity in features and body language; the two women finish each other’s sentences and banter back and forth with playful ribbing that screams “siblings.”

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Janine and Laurie, sisters and lunch crewmates

Originally from Boston, Janine and Laurie are two of ten children in their family. Janine now lives in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and Laurie calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. When I asked them how often they get to see each other, they replied, “At least once a year on the 3-Day®! That’s part of why we keep doing it, otherwise we wouldn’t get to see each other as much.”

Laurie, though the younger of the two sisters (Janine was good-humoredly offended at how quick Laurie was to point out who was older), is the more veteran 3-Day participant, with the 2014 Michigan 3-Day being her twenty-fourth event; she has walked eighteen times and crewed six times, including this Michigan event, and will walk again in San Diego this November. But Janine’s 3-Day experience is impressive too; she has walked seven times and this event marks her second year on the crew. Even hearing them try and itemize their 3-Day resumes (“No, you’ve walked eighteen times, not seventeen.” “Eighteen? Are you sure?” “How can I know this and you don’t know this?!”), their sisterly rivalry—though energetic and affectionate—is unmistakable. They shared stories about how last year, working a pit stop in Boston, their captain kept mixing up their names until the two ladies decided to write them in large black letters across their crew shirts, and another story about how one morning on the Arizona 3-Day, when Laurie was worried that they’d overslept, she let the air out of Janine’s air mattress right under her to get her sister moving. You can just picture them laughing through the whole thing.

Looking back at her long history with the 3-Day, Laurie recalls that she planned to take a break from walking after her third event. But then Janine was diagnosed with breast cancer. Laurie recalls what it felt like when her big sister shared the awful news: “I remember Janine said, ‘This is not supposed to happen.’ She took care of herself, she walked for other people with breast cancer [in the Race for the Cure] every year. It was like getting hit by a truck.”

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Laurie and Janine

Laurie immediately knew she had to walk again. So she signed up again, trained and raised money. Janine’s birthday was on Day 1 of Laurie’s walk in San Diego that year, and she called her sister to tell her, “This one’s for you.” Janine’s response? “Next year I’ll be there with you.” The following fall, Laurie and two of their other sisters joined Janine on her first 3-Day, where she proudly walked as a survivor.

Fast forward to 2014, when Janine and Laurie arrived from opposite coasts to meet and crew together again in Michigan. I asked them what the 3-Day meant to them, and Janine’s response was perfection: “This is one of the most gratifying events anyone can do. Being able to share this with my sister is incredible. She really is my co-survivor. Even though she wasn’t physically with me through all of my treatment, she was always there for me. We celebrate every year. Two nights ago [when we arrived in Michigan] was 11 years to the day of being cancer free. So I celebrated with my sister. And then it’s a big party with everyone else joining! It’s tremendous. I have 2 daughters, I’m one of 6 sisters, and we have a whole mess of nieces and grand-nieces. Enough is enough. I get angry when someone else is diagnosed. If I ever think, ‘I don’t want to keep doing the 3-Day, I’ll take that time and money and go on vacation instead,’ I say no, not till this is done.”

Michigan 3-Day participants can look for Janine and Laurie at the lunch stop this weekend. Where you find one of the sisters, the other is sure to be nearby.