By Elizabeth Sias
Fifteen days, 300 miles, $57,500.
To date, that’s the number of days spent walking, miles walked, and amount of money raised by the Isanti 3-Day Team in their fight to end breast cancer.
This year marks the team’s sixth anniversary walking in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day, a 60-mile walk over the course of three days.
“It’s hard, but it’s worth it,” said Beaner Bell, who’s walking for her fifth year. “Their biggest slogan is ‘Everyone deserves a lifetime,’ and I think that’s what it all comes down to.”
This year, in honor of breast cancer patient and fellow member of Long Lake Lutheran Church Jan Leppla, the name of the Isanti 3-Day team is Jan’s Go-Go Gals.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Leppla, who was diagnosed in December and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. “When (team member) Ronda told me, I just couldn’t believe it. It’s huge. It’s an honor; I can’t believe they’d do it in the first place, and that they’re doing it for me is a wonderful honor.”
With eight walkers during the event August 24-26, the team will raise an additional $18,400 at $2,300 each. Net proceeds from the 3-Day are invested in breast cancer research and community programs.
Each year the team walks for a member of the community who has been a victim of breast cancer, and they have been supported by several community organizations, including the Isanti Lions Club, Cambridge Legion Auxiliary, Isanti County Sportsmans Club, local churches and many individuals, team captain Donna Larsen said.
Larsen walked for the first time in 2005 with her daughter Kara, who learned about the 3-Day in a women’s studies class in high school and asked her mom to join her. Just two years later, Larsen assembled as many people as she could to form the Isanti 3-Day Team in 2007, and the group has been walking ever since, with new and old members alike.
“I walk so my daughter won’t have to,” Mo Spike said. This will be her fourth year walking.
Each member walks for their own reasons, but all share the goal of raising money to search for a cure to end breast cancer.
“We’ve never had anyone in our family have breast cancer, which makes us a huge minority,” Larsen said. “There are more families that have had a family member affected by it than not. To realize it’s so huge was eye-opening.”
She hopes that a cure for one type of cancer will open the door to curing other types. Every breakthrough in treatment makes a difference, and every dollar raised helps.
“Jan had a mammogram and within just a couple weeks, she was in treatment and getting a plan,” Larsen said. “It was very fast, whereas 10 or 20 years ago, it would have gone undiagnosed for a very, very long time until it got to the point where the treatment paths were a lot more radical and a lot less successful.”
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, team member and 3-Day ambassador Ronda Fenlon said.
“It’s very humbling. It changes you,” she said. “And it’s not only a woman’s disease, it’s also a man’s disease.”
Breast cancer survivor Jeni Kafer, who the team honored in the past, is walking in the 3-Day for the first time this year, but she has participated in the Mother’s Day Walk at the Mall of America.
“I was so overwhelmed by the encouragement and support of strangers,” she said.
It will also be Nikki Mellum’s first year.
“It’s going to be hard, but people with breast cancer go through radiation and chemo,” Mellum said. “If they can do that, we can walk 60 miles.”
The team trains by walking four miles around Long Lake Lutheran Church every Wednesday, as well as 10 or more miles once a month.
The Go-Go Gals agreed: the most challenging part of the 3-Day is not walking 60 miles, but fundraising.
The $2,300 each may seem high, Larsen said, but some of it goes toward the event itself. For instance, the 3-Day provides three meals a day for all walkers and two-person tents at overnight camps. There are also volunteer medical staff, crew members and more to ensure the safety of walkers.
The team has monthly fundraising events to help reach their goal, Fenlon said. In April, they’ll hold a community breakfast at the Isanti Lions Club; a Pink Boutique and Zumba class will take place May 12; a beer bust called “Beer for Boobs” is being held in June at WinterGreens; and they’ll hold their third annual Pink Barbecue in July. Each event also features a silent auction or raffle.
This year, Fenlon reached out to breast cancer survivors, current and past walkers and team supporters for recipes to put together a cookbook, which the team will sell for $10 each.
On Monday, Jan’s Go-Go Gals got together to assemble the cookbooks, which also feature inspirational quotes and words of wisdom from survivors and this year’s honoree Jan Leppla.
Leppla wrote: “Throughout this journey, I think the most important thing I learned is to open your heart to love; the love of God, your family and friends that can fill your life with so much joy and happiness that all else fades. My Gram taught me many years ago to think positive and that bit of wisdom has brought me a long way in facing life’s challenges and how to get through everyday life. I say thanks every day, many times a day, for my many blessings, for it is through those thanks that God gives us all his many miracles and the beauties he has to offer. There is nothing better than to start the day watching him create, second by second, a gorgeous sunrise right out our window. How glorious. I have many passions, which have been so much a part of my healing, too, as they keep me focused on things I love to do. So I say thanks to God and to all my family and friends for donating and for walking in my honor on this wonderful day! And always remember; never go out of the house without wearing your smile and wearing your blush!”
For more information on Jan’s Go-Go Gals, visit www.isanti3dayteam.com.
To make a donation to the team online, visit www.the3day.org and search for team name “Jan’s Go-Go Gals.” Checks made out to “The 3-Day” can also be sent to Ronda Fenlon at 28025 Bayshore Drive NW, Isanti, MN 55040.