This is team GTM. GTM stands for Gargantuan Thrill Machine. Of course, my first order of business when I sat down with sisters Jennifer and Sue MacMenamin at lunch on Day 2 of the Seattle 3-Day was to find out where that name came from.
“When we were in high school, maybe a little bit into college, we started a basement band, and that’s what we called it. The Gargantuan Thrill Machine, GTM for short. It came from a movie review on the back of a VHS copy of an old Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that was described as ‘a gargantuan thrill machine,’ and we just thought it was a great name for a band.”
A couple decades later, it was clear that GTM was also the perfect name for a 3-Day team. And not just any team; team GTM includes all five MacMenamin siblings, both parents, an aunt who came out from Ireland (where Mom and Dad MacMenamin are originally from as well), and a healthy smattering of very supportive friends. They are all first-timer walkers except for Jen, who walked in the Twin Cities 3-Day in 2010 with a friend whose mom died from breast cancer.
What brought their extended family to the Seattle 3-Day this year was the deeply personal motivation that brings so many people to the 3-Day: one of them got breast cancer. Sue was diagnosed last summer and just finished treatment this past August. As she got stronger in the spring, she started to get the idea of doing something. “Jen and I were on the phone once at work, and we thought, it’s coming up, we could do it. Let’s do it! So we signed up.”
They didn’t have much anxiety over walking 60 miles in 3 days, but the fundraising aspect made them a little nervous. Turns out, they didn’t have much to be nervous about; the 12-person Gargantuan Thrill Machine raised over $31,000, putting them in the top 10 fundraising teams in Seattle. “We all did our own things,” Jen told me. “Some people reached out on emails and texts. A couple of bake sales that our kids did.” Sue added with a laugh, “We did one bake sale with my kids at Shilshole Marina [in Seattle], and my 6-year-old daughter would run up to anybody who was walking down the docks and yell, ‘We’re having a fundraiser for breast cancer! We’re selling cookies!’ And then she would do the splits. Jen told us, don’t let the fundraising hold you back. People will support you. It will happen.”
Sue was the first person in the MacMenamin family to be diagnosed with breast cancer, so the family went from having no family history to suddenly having a very strong connection.
“Just from talking to the family, we’ve sort of never faced a type of stress that we couldn’t do anything about,” Jen said. “And so, the idea of this coming up was…everybody was so far away from Sue, and we all tried to be here, tried to be here, but there was nothing we could do for her. Treatment had to take its course. But the 3-Day felt like something that could focus our energy somewhere on something good.”
There was no hesitation from any of the MacMenamins to sign on, even though they are spread out over four states (and don’t forget Aunt Bea from Dublin). “It is remarkable. We’re incredibly, incredibly lucky, and I have been lucky this whole year.” Sue gets choked up and hugs her sister. “They’re really good.”
“The whole thing has been great,” Jen says. “It’s a beautiful walk, and everyone cheering, and all of us being together and having time to talk. That was one thing we were looking forward to. We’re all spread out, we each have kids, we don’t really get moments to get away and just be adults and chat and talk about life.”
Sue agrees. “For us, it’s a great way for all of us to be able to talk about our experience with breast cancer, for them to talk about it, and to talk about it in a positive way. All the people who are helping, all the research that’s being done, all the activism. It just helps to focus on the positive aspects.”
We talked about the whole idea of breast cancer awareness, and how it’s such a great thing, but also difficult, especially when it comes to our kids. “I know my kids worried about me dying,” Sue shared. “But they also see so many people that we call survivors. They see people, they know people. ‘Oh yeah, her mom’s a survivor, or his mom’s a survivor.’ It’s because there IS this presence, they see those examples.” Jen adds, “That’s one of the neat things about these types of events, the long walks of awareness, through all these neighborhoods. It’s a disruption of pink.”
A gargantuan disruption of pink—with an occasional pop of a green shamrock (they are Irish, after all).
On Day 2 of the Seattle 3-Day, when we had our conversation, I knew it may be too soon to tell, but I asked them anyway: do you think you’ll do it again? Sue thought about her answer for a second before responding, “I’d never say never, so who knows, but I will say that this time, this event has been so special that we just can’t recreate it.”