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.”
The staff of Susan G. Komen 3-Day spends the entire year supporting walkers and crew members from all corners of the country, and when the event season begins in August, many of these coaches also hit the road and work the 3-Day events themselves. We asked the 3-Day coaches to share some of their favorite moments or memories from the 2015 3-Day season.
Ann (Michigan Local Events Coach) – My favorite moment this year happened on Friday night in Michigan. The sun was setting and camp was starting to quiet down. I ran into a new walker who I had met once at an event in Cleveland. She was hanging out on some of our comfy 3-Day Main Street furniture. I grabbed her a mocktail from the Lounge, sat down with her and just chatted for a while. It was a quiet moment after a really long day (for both of us) and it felt so nice to just sit and connect with a walker while she relaxed and geared up for Day 2.
Robin (Volunteer Operations Manager) – I was serving as the caboose in San Diego. It was a sunny day and I had forgotten to bring my hat out on the route with me. Route Safety crew member Dan Sinclair saw that I needed a hat and then gave me a cute pink fedora. It’s so great to have such wonderful volunteers looking out for the walkers, the staff and fellow crew.
Robin looking “fedorable” with her family in San Diego
Stephanie (Twin Cities Local Events Coach) – I was the Route Coordinator with the amazing Pit Stop 3 crew in Seattle. On Day 2 our stop was located at a church which offers a safe haven to homeless people in the Seattle area who live out of their cars, allowing them to park in their lot throughout the day and at night. When we arrived at the location early in the morning we were all humbled by what we saw. As we were setting up the pit stop, 4 small children hopped out of one van and walked into the church to brush their teeth for the day. Eventually several more of the car owners were waking up and doing the same. It certainly made me pause and think of my own family back in St. Paul, who at that very moment were enjoying a warm house, a pantry full of food and a Saturday schedule of soccer games and friends. As a crew team, we decided to do something when we closed down. We set up a buffet of leftover fruits, sandwiches, grahamwiches and more on the church steps for these families. We eventually finished packing up and headed out, and halfway back to my hotel, I received a text from my Crew Captain. She said it was like Christmas morning at the church. After the 3-Day people left, suddenly car doors opened and the homeless families walked up to the food we left and began eating. More cars arrived ‘home’ to the church parking lot and joined in as well. I didn’t know whether to cry or be happy when I heard this. I think I did both. Needless to say I couldn’t be prouder of what the crew did that day. It was their job to help and support the 3-Day community, but they ended up helping so many more people than that.
Stephanie and Seattle’s Pit Stop 3 minions
Nanette (San Diego Crew & Volunteer Coordinator) – Out of all of the events last year, I choose Philadelphia. Why? Because who doesn’t love standing in the freezing rain for 8 hours? Actually, it’s because I think the connection I made with the lunch crew I was working with was incredible. They worked amazingly well. The captain was fantastic and we had a lot of assistance from long-time lunch crew members. Seeing everyone working in harmony and creating lasting friendships was so special, and those relationships were only strengthened by a good rain. The cheerfulness in the faces made up for the lack of sunshine in the skies.
Joanne (Philadelphia Local Events Coach) – In 2015, I had the pleasure of meeting Deb Craig. She and her friends (Philly Phinz) are HUGE supporters of the 3-Day and host their own private cheering station each year on Saturday. Deb and I communicated for months before the event and she was very anxious to meet me. So on that Saturday, I swung by their cheering station and met Deb and her clan. They had a whole elaborate set-up with a tent, lots of food and the most amazing hot apple cider for the chilliest of days. What a fantastic idea! She was thrilled that I took the time to come visit. The more amazing part about Deb is that she has Multiple Sclerosis and never complains. She has the cheeriest disposition and the smile never leaves her face. I can’t wait to see her again in 2016!
Joanne (right) with Deb in Philly
Molly (Local Operations Director) – Most of the event season I’m in a role that’s behind the scenes, but this year I got to play the challenging but fun role of Caboose in Dallas/Fort Worth for the second year in a row. As Caboose my job is to remain with walkers at the back of the pack and ensure that each stop along the way, and ultimately each day’s route, closes on time. While it can be difficult at times, the magical moments as Caboose far outweigh any of the challenges you can experience. This year I had the pleasure of walking alongside one of our 7-city series walkers. I’d heard of Christa along the way, but getting the opportunity to walk beside her and hear about her tremendous story directly from her was an honor and a true reminder of just how important the work we do on the 3-Day truly is. Christa is planning on walking in all 7 cities again next year and I already can’t wait to see her.
Christa with Caboose Molly
Paula (Seattle Participant Coach) – Our 83 year-old 3-Day walker, George Nummer, registered for the Seattle 3-Day in 2015, and we became phone friends after his first call to the coaches months before the event. In our conversations, he always ended the call with a reminder to “save a dance” for him. He found me on Saturday in Seattle, and we shared that dance and the wonderful camaraderie that 3-Day participants all know so well. I learned that George was never a dancer until his first 3-Day, when his fellow walkers invited him to dance with them. These days, George is the first one on the dance floor, and he had found me for one more dance at the end of Day 3. He had more energy than most after our strenuous 60-mile journey ended. George, I will always save a dance for you!
Gina (Michigan Crew & Volunteer Coordinator) – I always love seeing the young people and their involvement, be it as participants or supporters, as I think they are the future of this event. It’s really cool to see the Youth Corps who go on to walk in the event and continue their 3-Day legacy.
Gina with her biggest little fan
Jennifer (Michigan Participant Coach) – I love seeing the same people on the 3-Day year after year. In 2015, two ladies whom I had gotten to know well as walkers the year before were both participating in the Twin Cities 3-Day–Karen as a walker again and Stephanie as a crew member. I was the staff person assigned to Pit Stop 4 and Stephanie was there to help and cheer on walkers. We were catching up we caught a glimpse of Karen coming down the street and knew she would be in the pit stop any minute. Quickly, we formed a plan: Stephanie went into one of the porta-potties to hide, and when Karen came into the stop, I made a silly production out of saying I had ‘reserved’ a porta-potty just for her. She was laughing but it worked and she went right into the same one that Stephanie was hiding in. There was a scream and then all three of us burst out laughing. It was a great moment and I am pretty sure Karen is probably more cautious when she enters porta-potties now.
Jennifer with Karen and Stephanie (outside a port-potty, thank goodness)
The Twin Cities 3-Day was also when I made more great memories with the rest of the 3-Day staff. I work with some of the most amazing people on the planet. I love my job, but for most of the year I am in my home office with only a phone and a computer to connect me with these amazing co-workers, so when event season comes around I am thrilled to be able to see them face-to-face and work alongside them. On Saturday, I got a lot of extra help at pit stop 4 (we were expecting storms, so we had to make sure the walkers all made it in and out of the last stop safely before the weather got too bad). Looking back, I don’t think I can remember another time where so many route staff were gathered at the same spot. At one point, we found ourselves all lined up, trying to take a very serious picture of all of us and we just couldn’t do it. I know that many pictures were snapped but none of us could hold a straight, serious face for more than a couple of seconds. The picture included here is one of my all-time favorites.
Gayla (Dallas/Fort Worth Local Events Coach) – After participating in or staffing 19 3-Day events since 2005, the 2015 Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day was a very different experience for me, inspiring on a totally different level. It was the first time I was a speaker at the Opening Ceremony in front of thousands of people. I’ve cheered walkers out of Opening Ceremony, but this year I got caught up dancing them out with Pink Hair Guy, Bill Wetsel. The interaction was very special as I passed out pink Promise Ribbons to walkers, trying to meet every single person and thank them for all of their hard work training and fundraising. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many hugs in my life. I think the highlight of 2015 was when I announced Ralph Morriss as the Local Impact Award winner in Dallas/Fort Worth. He had no idea and was very surprised when I said his name after talking about what “this person” had accomplished over the years for the 3-Day. The dining tent absolutely erupted with cheers! Gives me goosebumps and makes me smile every time I think about it.
Staci (San Diego Participant Coach) – I have to say that finally being face-to-face with Sally Dunbar at the Opening Ceremony in San Diego was a phenomenal start to the event weekend and a favorite lasting memory from this year. Sally is a particularly hard-working, enthusiastic and determined out-of-town team captain. She recruited over 50 first-time 3-Dayers to be a part of her team. We’d exchanged a bunch of emails throughout the season, brainstormed team gear, cheered on the team milestones (each surpassed by the next momentous accomplishment!) and now here we were – at the Opening Ceremony. My first thoughts were: “Wow, Sally’s really tall! I see her team is all wearing purple, and they all have fancy headbands. And they’re all up front near the stage!” My next thought (and this is the one that gave me my first chills of the weekend) was “Little do they know the journey that awaits them.” As I looked at that swath of purple I knew without a doubt that these folks were about to share the weekend of a lifetime. It doesn’t get any better than that.
San Diego coaches Kim (left) and Staci (right)
Kim (San Diego Local Events Coach) – There were too many great memories from 2015, how can I pick just one? Going through all my pictures helps me relive all the amazing moments again. In Michigan, I loved working with the amazing 3-Day team before first event, getting ready to begin a fantastic 3-Day season. After that, it was off to the Twin Cities, and I especially loved watching Chrissy Mathews encourage and cheer people in to the pit stop with her unstoppable energy (and getting a fun selfie with her and a fellow staffer). Day 2 in Twin Cities was quite an experience, with having to shut down pit stop 4 a little early because of thunderstorms (and tornado watches – not what this California girl is used to!), but we still found time for some good laughs before things got too crazy.
(Editor’s note: Kim and Jennifer were not aware that they both sent this as one of the favorite memories!)
Seattle had some special moments, like seeing one survivor take care of another, and getting to meet these 4 wonderful women, 3 of them walkers and 1 crew. And of course, there was time for a lot of silliness with co-workers, like this day when Nanette and I got a little nutty preparing pit stop equipment.