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

The Spirit of Giving: The Susan G. Komen 3-Day Santa

Anyone who has been to a Susan G. Komen 3-Day® knows that during those three days, beauty is all around you. Each day is also packed with hope, inspiration, endurance, and magical moments. Some of that Komen 3-Day magic comes from the smiles and cheers of spectators, rooting you on to keep putting one foot after the other. Some of it comes from sitting down at lunch, enjoying some water, a yummy sandwich and a chat with your fellow 3-Dayers. Some of it comes from the beauty of the scenery around you, winding paths through lush green forests, or the dazzling sky line of the city. However, the best magic comes from the people you meet, each one with their own inspiring story, and few stories feel more magical than the 3-Day® Santa.

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Santa is easy to spot, with a full white beard and fuzzy pointed hat (naturally, he traded in red for pink for this occasion). He is greeted with joy by the many participants and spectators who want to take a photo with him. Santa is a veteran walker (this Philadelphia event is his eighth 3-Day), a training walk leader, a member of the North Pole Endurance Team, and is known as the Marathon Santa for all of the events he participates in. He has also been photographed with his Naughty or Nice list for the 60-Mile Men calendar (composed of male 3-Day participants). When Santa isn’t at the North Pole, he spends time at what he calls “a major workshop in Maryland,” sometimes dabbling in chemical engineering. He trains about 1,000 miles per year, and completes multiple charitable events, including pancreatic cancer awareness events and the Disney Marathon weekend.

Why does Santa fly his sleigh to the 3-Day and walk 60 miles? Santa joined the 3-Day family after participating in the Global Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C. After seeing an ad for the 3-Day, Santa decided to take a bold step and walk his first 60 miles. “I have a personal score to settle with breast cancer,” he said.  “I walk for several reasons. When my son got married, his wife’s mother died shortly after from breast cancer.” His son’s wife and her two sisters were tested for BRCA gene, and “of the three girls, my son’s wife was BRCA positive.” Later, his 82-year-old aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Santa also tells the story of meeting a family at a Get Started Meeting who had a 12-year-old daughter facing breast cancer. Santa had a personal mission to fundraise $10,000 in the name of this young lady, and he embarked on his “Bold Bald Santa” initiative. Santa made a promise that if he raised $10,000, he would walk an event completely bald. To help rally his supporters to $10,000, he dyed his hair neon green, eventually progressing to hot pink, and then a mohawk, and then he shaved it off when he surpassed his goal and raised $15,000.

Santa's home away from the North Pole includes twinkling Christmas lights and Santa flags.

Santa’s home away from the North Pole includes twinkling Christmas lights and Santa flags.

Meeting Santa is a special experience for everybody, children and adult 3-Dayers alike. In Santa’s spirit of giving, he passes out a special memento to those he meets along the route: a beautiful custom minted coin with his likeness. Santa gradually created more and more unique coins, all illustrated by himself, including coins for Mrs. Claus, his CEO (Chief Elf of Operations), the North Pole Elves, and even a special coin for pets. “Throughout the years, everybody kept asking me, do you have a coin for my pet? The 2013 edition is a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer coin, just for people’s pets.” These coins establish Santa’s ‘credibility’. “When a child comes up to me, I let them start the conversation. I get some very strange questions,” Santa laughs. A common question Santa encounters is, “Are you real?” Sometimes the coins aren’t enough to prove his authenticity, so when he meets a real skeptic, Santa whips out his International Sleigh License, complete with a North Pole address, Date of Birth of ‘Ageless’ and a weight of ‘Jolly’.

Santa passes out special custom coins to those he meets.

Santa passes out special custom coins to those he meets.

Santa’s role as a 3-Day walkers is inspiring, and he’ll often walk with other 3-Dayers and encourage them to keep moving. “People say to me, ‘You know, if it hadn’t been for you, I couldn’t have finished.’ I try really hard to live up to my motto, which is the tradition of giving. I try to inspire people to do that little bit extra for giving support.”

Santa is definitely a giver: of hope, inspiration, and the unwavering endurance it takes to fight breast cancer. His message rings loud and clear with the 3-Day family: choose to believe in magic and the spirit of giving.

Congratulations to Stephanie C., the Philly Susan G. Komen 3-Day Milestone Award Winner

Congratulations to Stephanie C., the Susan G. Komen Philadelphia 3-Day Milestone Award Winner! The 2014 Komen Philadelphia 3-Day is Stephanie’s 7th 3-Day, after having done her first 3-Day in Philadelphia in 2006. Stephanie has also crewed one time in Philadelphia in 2012, an experience that she really enjoyed, noting, “I was on trash clean-up and I loved it.”

Over the years, Stephanie has raised over $135,000; an incredible amount that has no doubt helped change many lives. What’s one of Stephanie’s fundraising tricks? “Do something that is FUN! I hold a golf outing each year and each year I have been able to increase sponsorship fees because I ensure my guests enjoy the day. I now have a following that I believe I will be able to sustain as long as I have the energy,” Stephanie said. Stephanie started hosting the golf outings in 2009, and they end up being big fundraisers for her, sometimes netting more than $20,000.

Like many others who embark on their 3-Day journey, Stephanie joined the 3-Day after a friend who had been touched by breast cancer asked her to walk. “My motto is always that I will try something once and if I don’t like it I don’t have to do it again. I got injured on my first 3-Day in 2006, so I waited two years to walk and my inspiration since then has been all those that have been afflicted by this dreaded disease,” said Stephanie.

As a seasoned 3-Dayer, what is it about the 3-Day that keeps Stephanie coming back? Stephanie describes the moment she knew was coming back when “survivors walked into Villanova stadium after my first 3-Day. I had trained and trained and trained and it was not real until I looked around as all the participants took off their sneakers to pay tribute to the survivors who had the strength to do the walk. It was a humbling and overwhelming experience and even after six walks – I still cry.” (So do we, Stephanie.)

When asked to share her best advice for those new to the 3-Day family, Stephanie said to never underestimate the importance of stretching, and above all, to have fun. “The most important thing is to have fun. I talk to new people and enjoy my surroundings (especially when walking in new places). Anyone who is out there walking is blessed and I am thankful that God has given me the strength and tenacity to make the trek each year. Sixty miles is nothing compared to what those that are battling cancer deal with.”

After raising $135,000 and walking over 360 miles total, Stephanie has one more thing to tell you. “Remember – you make a difference. No matter how small – it adds up to be immense,” she said. We couldn’t agree more.