“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
$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.


How to Recruit 65 Brand New Walkers to Your Team in One Year – A True Story

On the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, it’s not unusual for a team to round up a handful of new walkers each year. But some teams set their sights a little higher.

Enter Sally Dunbar.

Sally is the captain of the 2015 San Diego 3-Day team Hands Up for Hooters, and she was simply not going to settle for a handful of teammates. Sally successfully convinced 69 people to join her team in 2015, 65 of whom were brand new to the 3-Day. I had the chance to speak with Sally, a delightful woman who is a 10-year survivor and 4-time 3-Day walker, and she shared her secrets to team-building success.

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Hands Up for Hooters Team Captain Sally in San Diego

Set A Big Goal – Sally is fond of saying “No big achievement ever came without a big goal.” When she registered for the 2015 San Diego 3-Day in late 2014, she set a fundraising goal of $25,000. “Then I thought, don’t be a wimp, make it $50,000,” Sally recalls with a chuckle. But even that wasn’t a lofty enough target for Sally to aim for, and she found herself typing $100,000 into the Fundraising Goal box on her 3-Day Participant Center. The goal was set, and Sally’s mind was set on reaching it.

Crunch The Numbers – “I didn’t even have a team at that point,” Sally said. “So I started thinking, all right, to get $100,000, I can’t do it by myself. I knew that I needed to build a team. I did the math and figured I needed 35 people to walk. With 35 walking, we could make $100,000. But then I thought, I’d better get 45 or 50 so that if anyone dropped out, we’d still have enough. And so I set my goal at 45 team members and started recruiting.”hands up for hooters

Start Early, No Pressure – “I started in December [of 2014]. I sent out a letter just saying ‘I want you to think about this.’” Sally stands by this soft-sell technique: “Just a ‘think about it’ letter. I told them, I’m going to send you a request to join my team in January, so just think about it. Then in January I started sending out emails, and I changed my signature on my email and whatnot.” By starting to ask early, you give your recruits time to get comfortable with the journey of fundraising and training that they’ll be taking.

Walk the Walk –Sally incorporated casual walking into her recruitment strategy long before anyone was diving into any serious training. “We started walking together in January, having ‘fun walks’ every Sunday. We’d meet at our local deli at 8 o’clock, and if it was raining, we’d have coffee, but if it wasn’t raining, we would walk, just for fun. In May we started a training schedule. We just marched on. We did a training walk every Saturday and every Sunday until the weekend before our San Diego event.” These walks became weekly excursions that Sally’s friends and family looked forward to, and the camaraderie that developed convinced many team members to register officially and start moving toward that big goal.susan g komen 3-day breast cancer 60 miles walk blog san diego team hands up for hooters sally dunbar

Face Your Fears – “I realized pretty quickly that people have the same fears,” Sally shared. “They can’t walk that far, they can’t raise that much money, they can’t take that much time from whatever their life is involving…” Sally didn’t back down from those fears, but faced them, inviting anyone and everyone to come to her Sunday walks, even if they weren’t registered 3-Dayers yet. “At the team meetings we would have, we would just talk about, okay, introduce yourself, tell us what’s your fear in doing this.” Getting face to face with someone who might have some anxiety about doing the 3-Day is a great way to assure them that they’re not alone. Even veteran walkers like Sally can benefit from this open airing of concerns: “I don’t know who it’s been better for, them or me. I was very fearful now and then, thinking, what if I get into this and I can’t pull it off? It’s like, you gotta be kidding. Just have no fear, girl.”

Dial Up the Fun – With her team, Sally created a fun and lively atmosphere and shared the team’s exploits frequently on social media. “Every walk we did, I took pictures, I tagged every single person, and we just made it fun. I’m constantly taking pictures and I show all those fun pictures, and so people just kept seeing what we’re doing.” This repeated exposure to Hands Up For Hooters’ good times prompted many of her followers to say, “I want to be part of that!”

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Sally and friends take a break to spell out HOOTERS

Any Reason is a Good Reason – Some people may hesitate to join the 3-Day because they haven’t been personally touched by breast cancer. Sally reassured people that that didn’t matter. “I would let people know, look, you can join because you want to lose weight, you can join because you want to get some exercise, you can join because you want to meet new people, because you want to learn new walking trails, or because you have a personal connection to breast cancer. You will end up having that personal connection to breast cancer at some point in your life, and being involved in this team will help bring you to that point, but for now, it doesn’t matter what your reason is. I’ll take you for any reason, it’s fine!”

Do Your Homework – Getting involved with a charitable organization or event is a personal decision, and knowing a lot about the organization goes a long way in quieting doubts. “I know a lot of people at Komen,” Sally says, “and I asked a lot of people questions so I could prepare my team for those ‘Komen questions.’ I read the financial reports and I read some of the research so that I could answer them. I answered all of my hesitations and my doubts, and I feel very resolved that there’s not an argument that someone could put up that I can’t address.” Chrissy Mathews, Susan G. Komen® 3-Day Program Manager, introduced Sally at the Friday night camp show in San Diego to recognize her incredible team-building success, and Chrissy reminds the entire extended 3-Day family that she is always available to chat with and answer your questions or concerns.

susan g komen 3-day breast cancer 60 miles walk blog san diego team hands up for hooters sally dunbar

Sally and Chrissy in San Diego

Calm the Fundraising Fright – Being afraid of the 3-Day’s fundraising requirement holds many people back from registering, so I asked Sally how she addressed her potential teammates’ fundraising anxieties. “I just promise them that if you send out a letter from the heart, if you do a lot of emailing, change your email signature with a link to your donation page and tell people what you’re doing…if you put it out there, I promise you will raise your money.” This up-front reassurance was also supplemented by team fundraising efforts that helped everyone. “We did a couple of [restaurant] nights at a local brew pub where, anyone who donated to us, [the owner] would give them 20% off their bill. We made more money that way than if he had given us 20% of their ticket.”

Donors Are Part of the Team – Hands Up for Hooters made their donors feel like part of the family. “We made our little Hootie pin, so if someone donated to us, we gave them a pin.” And the celebration of donors didn’t stop there: “We did another big group fundraiser, Hooterpalooza, where we basically were just thanking our donors. If they donated to us, we invited them to this party, we put it on, and at the party, we did a killer raffle. We made a lot of money that way.”susan g komen 3-day breast cancer 60 miles walk blog san diego team hands up for hooters sally dunbar

Keep The Team Energy Going All Year! – Sally shared, “We just really connected as a team, bonded as a team, and really supported each other. And then we would talk about the successes. ‘I just made my goal.’ ‘How’d you do it?’ ‘Here’s what I did…’ And usually it’s very simple. You just put it out there.” These weekly check-ins kept her teammates engaged, motivated, and let them know that they would be supported no matter where they were in their training and fundraising progress.

So…Did Hands Up For Hooters Reach Their Goal? – Sally was thrilled to share, “We raised $142,000. After we blew by $100,000, which was my goal, I raised the goal to $150,000 and thought, you’ve got to have an unreachable goal. I just hope by the end of the year, we can get our number up to $150K.” At press time, Hands Up for Hooters’s fundraising total was just north of $147,000.

What’s Next? – I asked Sally if she thinks most of her first-timer teammates will return to the 3-Day next year, and she responded with a confident “Oh yeah. We’re not sure yet [where we’ll walk]. I figured, I can’t have them vote without having finished this one first. I’ve been collecting prizes, and we going to have awards in January and just kind of wrap up everything and get things kicked off for next year, and we’ll vote on where we want to go. But San Diego’s pretty darn awesome.” And her teammates, it seems, have caught the recruitment bug too. “What’s really funny is, many of them on the team are coming to me saying, ‘I figured out if we each recruit three new people, we could triple the money, we could make $300,000!’ That kind of intimidates me,” Sally laughs. “But we’re absolutely going to go for it and have a big team next year.”

susan g komen 3-day breast cancer 60 miles walk blog san diego team hands up for hooters sally dunbar

Sally’s daughter (left) was one of the 65 first-time walkers on Hands Up for Hooters

Are you looking to build YOUR team? Don’t forget that Wednesday, Dec. 9 is the last day to take advantage of our $35 discounted registration fee. Encourage your friends to get registered today before the price goes up, and see the amazing things you and your team can do! The3Day.org/register