Riley and Alexa Roll On

“On July 31, 2012, I lost my best friend, my sister, Kathi.”

Riley W is walking for her sister, a promise she made Kathi. “I intend on keeping those promises [to walk every year] for us until the day comes when we are together again,” says Riley. “I will talk about the importance of getting checked whenever and wherever I am.” Riley and Kathi had walked together in 2010 for their grandmother who they lost to breast cancer, for their cousin who is a survivor, for friends who have lost the battle, and for all those who carry on! Riley had no idea in those first years that she would be continuing her personal crusade for her sister.

Riley and Alexa prepare for the Philadelphia 3-Day

Riley and Alexa prepare for the Philadelphia 3-Day

“After our 2010 3-Day walk, Kathi was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. In 2012, I walked for her,” remembers Riley. Riley’s niece and Kathi’s daughter, Alexa, is also joining her on this Philadelphia 3-Day event, her third year on Youth Corps, that feisty group of yellow-shirted youngsters who keep the energy high and do some serious help along the route and in camp. Youth Corps members have to raise $500, and Alexa holds the title of Top Crew Fundraiser for the last two years. The Crew on a 3-Day event includes hundreds of adult volunteers who make the event run! (Riley and Alexa combined this year will top $29,000!)

Riley is attacked by Alexa, her niece, and friends at the Philadelphia 3-Day

Riley, in her pink cowboy boots, is attacked by Alexa, her niece, and friends at the Philadelphia 3-Day

Alexa and her aunt Riley have a special relationship, as evidenced by their greetings that Riley gets from her niece and her friends as we talk. Riley has tried hard to stay close to her niece. “I can never and don’t try to replace her mother,” says Riley, “but I try to do more than a good aunt would do. She knows she can call me about anything.” That often means that Alexa could call while Riley is on the road, playing at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville (her current home), or on the road acting or working in the film and television industry. Riley’s talents have included more than acting and writing scripts, as she continues to be a singer-songwriter in the country scene around Nashville and the country.

Riley and Alexa pose for a picture with Youth Corps friends

Riley and Alexa pose for a picture with Youth Corps friends

The aunt-niece team is truly a pair of friends to behold. Riley was asked to delight the crowd at this year’s Philadelphia 3-Day, so she will share some songs while the walkers relax and eat dinner at camp. When I pushed her about some of her music, she mentioned that she did write a special song around the time her sister was doing poorly in her fight for breast cancer. “I was having this ‘why are doing this’ kind of moments, and I thought of the lines ‘We’ve been in a war . . . and I’m thinkin’ you won.’ My sister loved the being played to her for the first time in the hospital, well after visiting hours. She said, ‘Turn it up! Everyone has to hear this!’ She wanted it played at her funeral, but I had to record it as a backup in case I was too emotional to sing it.” I asked if there were other songs of hers that Kathi loved.

“One other one,” Riley smiled. “Surrender laughing.” Remembering Kathi has been at the center of the 3-Day events for them, but they are far from surrendering the fight to find a cure. Say hello to this powerhouse family in Philadelphia this weekend!

Alexa carries the flag "My Mother" at the 2013 Philadelphia Opening Ceremony

Alexa carries the flag “My Mother” at the 2013 Philadelphia Opening Ceremony