Last year on the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, we began a new tradition of sharing Promise Ribbons, a colorful, simple yet touching way for walkers and crew members to share their hopes and promises with each other and their supporters. But for Sandy Kazinski, a 12-time 3-Day walker from New York, sharing ribbons has been a tradition that has spanned many miles for years before Promise Ribbons came on the scene.
Easily recognizable on the 3-Day in her ribbon-covered hat, Sandy has personally made and shared thousands of pink ribbon pins with other walkers.
I had the chance to meet Sandy at the Twin Cities 3-Day last August and find out the story behind her ribbon fixation. “I was always sending little thank you notes to donors and I wanted to send something fun and something personal with them.” She would find little breast cancer items to send—pads of sticky notes and other knick-knacks—all marked in some way with pink ribbons, but she started to feel like those weren’t personal enough. She decided to start including an actual pink ribbon with a pin, and the idea quickly snowballed. Not content to use just solid pink either, Sandy began seeking out fun patterns. “I got online and I was finding this website and that ribbon site and this gift shop and I just got a little…crazy obsessive?” Sandy said with a laugh.
Spools of ribbons. Dozens of designs. Piles of safety pins. It became Sandy’s nightly routine to sit and watch the 11 o’clock news, cutting and pinning ribbons the whole time. Every night. She would pin during commutes. She would pin on winter days in New York with the snow falling outside her window. Before long, the ribbons vastly outstripped the number of donors she had to send them to. So her ribbon-sharing expanded.
Sandy started handing out ribbons on training walks she hosted. She participates in other breast cancer events, including the NYC Race for the Cure® and hands out ribbons there. And she began mailing ribbons—bagfuls at a time—to 3-Day walkers in other cities. It started with people she knew or had met on her many 3-Days throughout the country, but soon the ribbon mailings spread to include strangers too. “I go onto the message boards,” Sandy shared. “If I see somebody’s story, or see that somebody has been helpful to somebody else (volunteering to be a tentmate, or offering someone a ride from the airport), I’ll send them ribbons.” There are 3-Day walkers whom Sandy has never met, in every 3-Day location, who have been surprised by a baggie of pink ribbons in their camp mail. “I just pick and send. Because honestly, what am I going to do with all those ribbons?”
Exactly what kind of numbers are we talking about here? I asked Sandy how much ribbon she starts with at the beginning of a new 3-Day year. “Gosh, I don’t know. Too much! My coffee table is still filled with it. I buy safety pins from Amazon. Normally it is just one box of 10 gross (1,440 pins). This year, I did 2 boxes, 2,880 pins, and I used them all. It’s a little crazy, a little obsessive.” All told, there are probably close to 10,000 “Sandy ribbons” out there, pinned to various bulletin boards, shirts, lanyards, hats and packs around the nation.
Sandy admits that she doesn’t really remember WHY she got so caught up in this pink ribbon frenzy. She doesn’t have a family history of breast cancer, but her decade-and-a-half involvement with the 3-Day and other breast cancer events has led to friendships and personal connections in every corner of the U.S. And she doesn’t show any signs of stopping her pinning mania. What started as a cute way to say thank you to donors has turned into something much bigger.
“I give ribbons out constantly because they start and continue the very important dialogue—self-exam, who am I walking for, how I got involved, what Komen does with funds raised, how you take care of your breast health. I will keep pinning! I have a few dozen yards of new ribbon patterns. I wear a new ‘Sandy Hat’ each year, made up of the current year’s ribbon patterns which are being doled out around the country.” And remember that in the midst of all of the pinning, Sandy is also diligently training and fundraising for the 3-Day (this year, she’ll be walking in San Diego, her 13th 3-Day). Across the many cancer events she has participated in since 1999, she has personally raised over $110,000.
It has a ripple effect, a pay-it-forward kind of influence where it doesn’t stop with just one person. It starts with Sandy, but these ribbons have made it to walkers, cancer patients and survivors, and hundreds of friends whom she has never met. Sandy says, “It’s the gift that keeps giving!”
What advice does Sandy have for someone who is thinking about doing the 3-Day? “Attend a Get Started call or meeting and raise your hand and ask a question. Walk a training walk. Push yourself—whether it’s physically or from the fundraising perspective. You will never know your potential until you try. You will surprise yourself every step of the way, pun intended. Know that you never ever walk alone. I used to say that I would want someone like me fighting like hell if the tables were turned. I don’t have to be out there doing this, but I will continue to fight this fight. And I’d want someone doing the same for me.”