In October 2012, Boyertown residents Marti Powers, Amy Heisler, and Lisa Berke put on their walking shoes and completed the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk in Philadelphia to honor family and friends who have suffered with cancer.
For 68-year old Powers, the event was the culmination of a 24-week training program and a celebration of being nearly five-years cancer-free.
It was in March 2008 when, during her annual mammogram, a malignant growth was discovered in Powers’ left breast. After several tests and surgeries, she eventually needed to have a mastectomy, but fortunately did not need chemotherapy or radiation and was able to complete her treatment with an aromatase inhibitor.
Powers learned that obese women have a higher incidence of recurrence, so she started eating well and exercising at the Boyertown YMCA.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m happy that I had cancer, but I’m in a better place now then I was then,” explained Powers. “I lost 80 pounds and my whole life changed. I can do things that I couldn’t do before, plus I’m so much more grateful and the things I do give me more pleasure.”
Ever since her diagnosis, Powers and daughter Amy Heisler (43) have been participating in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K walk, but since Powers’ five-year anniversary of being cancer-free was approaching, Heisler suggested they go a step further and sign up for the three-day event.
“I asked if she would entertain the thought of walking it. At first she was against it, and she had been walking for quite a while and really practicing, and I convinced her she could do the training. I know how it feels to cross a finish line in a marathon, and I knew it was going to be a similar feeling,” said Heisler.
They then reached out to Heisler’s friend, Lisa Berke (46), who had lost her mother to breast cancer in 2006, and the three-woman “Walk, Race, Save” team was born.
As Berke explained, “One of the reasons I wanted to do it so much was because my mom was so far away when she was going through her illness. I couldn’t be there for her. I couldn’t help her. So, for me, I just felt like I needed to do something, and this was something I could do. I would highly recommend it for anybody in a similar situation to me. It’s just something you can do in an otherwise powerless situation.”
Heisler and Berke were already marathon runners, so they knew they would need less training than Powers, who was physically active and healthy, but unprepared to handle an endurance event. Fortunately, Susan G. Komen offers a training handbook that outlines a 24-week preparatory program for would-be walkers, which Powers followed to the letter. At the end of the six months, Powers had trained for more than 570 miles at a pace of just over three miles an hour, which meant she was often walking more than seven hours a day.
In addition to preparing physically, walkers are also required to prepare financially by each raising a mandatory $2,300 in order to participate. The women reached out to family, friends, and co-workers, collecting $7,755 of the $4.6 million that was raised during the 2012 Philadelphia event.
On October 5, the “Walk, Race, Save” team donned matching shirts designed by Berke, featuring a modification of the Komen emblem that looked like a mother and daughter and a list of the people for whom they were walking. After an emotional opening ceremony at Willow Grove Park Mall, the walkers trekked the first day’s 23.5 miles through Chestnut Hill, along Kelly Drive, and on the Wissahickon Trail. Along the way, there were crowds cheering them on and frequent pit-stops with food, drinks, and port-a-potties. They ended the day at the Pennsylvania Convention Center where they were fed dinner, entertained, and allowed to take hot showers in two tractor trailers outfitted with private dressing room and shower combinations, before going to sleep by 9:30 p.m. in two-person tents.
The next day’s 24.5 miles included walking along the Main Line, and through Haverford College campus and Center City. During this second day while crossing over a bridge at the Overbrook Train Station, Powers shared that she and her husband, Joe, had gotten engaged in that very spot 48 years before – which she had never mentioned to her daughter before.
On the final day, the women walked the 16.5 miles in the rain through Center City and South Philly to the Philadelphia Navy Yard where the walk concluded with an inspiring closing ceremony. Afterwards, they shared a celebration dinner in King of Prussia, where Powers’ aching feet were treated to the comfort of some roomy men’s slippers.
Although Powers has decided the three-day walk was a “once and done” challenge, Heisler and Berke have already registered their new team “Fifty Shades of Pink” for the 2013 walk on October 4 – 6. They encourage anyone interested in the walk to visit the website (the3day.org) for information and to search for their team name if they would like to join.
“I highly recommend find a personal challenge linked to a charity of your choice,” encouraged Powers. “You will never be sorry to have made a passionate personal endeavor that contributes to a worthwhile need.”