When Dena M. made plans to walk in the 2014 Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, she set her sights high, registering for both the Seattle and San Diego events, and setting a goal to raise $10,000. But after crossing the finish line on Day 1 of the 2014 Seattle 3-Day in September, little did she know that her 3-Day ambitions for the rest of the year were about to be cut short.
“So I raised $10,500. And then I blew out my knee in Seattle. Day 1, 24 miles in. I crossed the finish line and danced and jumped and landed wrong. My teammates heard it.”
Even though Dena’s husband came out and pushed her in a wheelchair for Day 3, it soon became clear that her plans to walk in a second event this year were not realistic.
“My goal was to still walk here [in San Diego], so I went to several doctors and started physical therapy, my goal was to do at least 5 miles each day. But I ended up injuring my knee more by training, and got blood clots in my legs. My husband was going to come and push me in a wheelchair again, but the doctor said I couldn’t sit for that long because of the vein issues.”
Dena’s San Diego team, Mommies for Mammies, were almost all fellow Seattle-area friends who were bound for the Golden State, and Dena was determined to go with them, even if she wouldn’t be able to walk. Outside the entrance to a Day 2 pit stop was where I met her, while she waited for her teammates to come in, her knee still in a brace and her crutches leaning on the fence nearby. Speaking to Dena, the emotion in her voice was unmistakable. It was so difficult for her to not be walking herself, but still so important for her to be here in San Diego for her teammates. “This wasn’t my plan. I mean, I’m glad to be able to be here, but I wanted to walk. I know it’s about the fundraising, but for me, it’s about both. It’s been a tough couple of months.
“These women are amazing,” she says tearfully, referring not just to her Mommies for Mammies teammates, but all of the walkers (women and men) who stream past her into the pit stop.
I asked Dena what brought her to the 3-Day in the first place. “Three years ago, December 6, I lost my best friend, Jean. I watched her go through the process, and I was there when she passed.” Dena also mentions another member of the 3-Day community that they lost early this year. She stops for a moment, and I’m grateful for the pause, since I’m crying at this point too. “I also lost my aunt, and I have four friends currently going through treatment. So I do this for them, and I do it for other people who can’t walk, and will continue to walk. This means the world.”
In the midst of this solemn moment, Erika and Victoria, two of the other Mommies for Mammies, reach the pit stop and immediately greet Dena with a hug. Dena expresses again how she wishes she was walking with them.
“You just gotta take care of you this weekend, girl,” Erika replies. “We’re walking for you. We are your angels walking.” You can tell they’re a remarkable team, not only from their unwavering support for each other, but also from the fact that this year in San Diego, their very first event as a team, they are within the top 5 fundraising teams.
I asked Dena what her plans are for next year. Without hesitation, the emotion in her voice changes from sad to determined, and she says, “I’m going to walk all seven. I’m going do it, God willing, if my knee heals. I have surgery on the 9th of December.”
Dena shared one other story with me. After Jean died, her husband gave some of her ashes to Dena, asking her, when she was ready, to distribute them someplace that was special to Jean and Dena. “I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to let go of her.” Thinking about how Jean was Dena’s inspiration to get involved with the 3-Day in the first place, and how 2015 will bring Dena to seven cities across America to walk in Jean’s memory, I took a chance and suggested that Dena leave a small bit of Jean’s ashes in each of the 3-Day event cities next year. Her face lit up. “Yes! I’m going to do that. You have no idea how much that idea means to me.” It was one of the most beautiful moments of connection that I’ve experienced in all my years with the 3-Day.
Dena’s best laid plans for this year may have fallen short, but there’s no doubt that she is far from done with her 3-Day journey.