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.
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.”
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.”
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.