The Susan G. Komen Michigan 3-Day team Sparkles of Hope are hard to miss. Their dazzling enthusiasm and energy are enough to capture the attention of their fellow Michigan 3-Day participants, to say nothing of their glittery team couture. This is a group of ladies who literally cover each other (and any bystander who wants to get in on the action, including this blogger) with glitter spray before walking, but even without the artificial body bling, they bring an inspiring light of their own to the Komen 3-Day.
I spoke with team captain Lindsey L., a native of the Detroit metro area who, at just 24 years old is already a 5-time veteran of the 3-Day®. Lindsey first decided to walk in 2009 when her mom Loretta (now affectionately known as “Mama Sparkle”) was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 47. Lindsey was in her freshman year at Michigan State, and she shared how difficult it was to be away from her mom while she underwent treatment. Never one to let a feeling of helplessness take over, Lindsey registered for the Michigan 3-Day and formed the first Sparkles of Hope team with half a dozen supportive friends. She met her fundraising minimum early (“You just have to ask everybody.”), and surprised her mom in the hospital, telling her that she had started a 3-Day team and would be walking in her honor that summer. “I think she was shocked that I did all that work!” Lindsey says with a laugh.
What could have been a one-time event for Lindsey and Sparkles of Hope became much more than that. She began working directly with the Susan G. Komen Mid-Michigan Affiliate, and it was there that she met future Sparkles of Hope teammates, including Sydney T. Around the same time that Lindsey’s mom was fighting her disease, Sydney’s mom lost her own 10 year battle with breast cancer. Sydney was 18. This year, Sydney is part of the Young Women Walking program (along with two other Sparkles of Hope teammates), and appeared in the Michigan 3-Day Opening Ceremony, where she held a photo of her mom. Sydney shared, “I walk in memory of my mom and in celebration of my grandmother, who is a 47 year survivor.” This is actually Sydney’s third 3-Day event, and while work commitments kept her from walking the entire three days this year, she knows she will be back for the full event next year. She had this advice for anyone thinking about doing the 3-Day: “It’s a powerful experience, and you’ll be glad if you try. Just being near the community will keep you going. If you’re training and you can’t make it 10 miles, you’ll see that when you’re here, the community pulls you up. It’s not about the miles, it’s not about walking every step. It’s about raising the money and being here as part of the community. Hearing the stories. Your participation is valuable. It’s so important.”
Another Sparkles of Hope walker, Kirsten P., was the top fundraiser for Young Women Walking in Michigan this year, raising nearly twice the required minimum. Kirsten has walked the full 3-Day with Sparkles of Hope before (in 2012 and 2013), but like Sydney, was unable to walk all three days this year because of work obligations. She said, “I felt sad that I couldn’t do the whole thing this year, but I couldn’t do nothing! Young Women Walking was a great way for me to still be involved. I was able to go cheer yesterday, and it was cool to see it from the other side, but I will definitely be back for the whole thing next year. Every second is amazing!”
Nine of the twelve Sparkles of Hope team members are under the age of 25, making them, on average, one of the youngest teams on the Michigan event. When I pointed out that breast cancer has not always been considered a young woman’s issue (thankfully, that thinking is changing with increased awareness and education, and programs like the 3-Day’s Young Women Walking), “Captain Sparkle” Lindsey spoke openly and passionately about the Sparkles’ place in the pink world. “We’re all in our early 20s, and every one of us has been affected by breast cancer.” She points out her own Sparkles teammate Sarah K., who is a 29 year old survivor herself, and continues, “I started walking for my mom, and that was my only connection, but every single year, we hear more and more stories. We literally can’t stop because the stories keep coming, and aren’t stopping.” The emotion in her voice takes over, and you can tell that this is a young woman who knows how powerful she and other “pink soldiers” her age can be. “We can make a difference, even though we’re young. We are making a difference by educating others. We know how important it is to stay healthy, to get checked, and how important the work and research are that Susan G. Komen is doing. We know it’s such a commitment to raise money for the 3-Day, but we know that the message we can pass along to other people our age is just as important.”