Support sisters

MARSHALL – When Cris Gilb of Marshall first saw coverage of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk on television, she was going through chemotherapy and battling breast cancer since her diagnosis in the winter of 2008.

“At the time, I have enough effects of chemotherapy that I wasn’t sure if I could ever do it,” Gilb said.

That feeling changed five years later after Gilb was deemed cancer-free in 2009. Along with family members and past coworkers from Southwest Health and Human Services, Gilb organized the Pink Sneakers team to walk the three-day, 60-mile awareness event.

Gilb’s seven-person team included Carol Biren of Russell, Kristin Deacon of Slayton, Kara Miller of Balaton, Amy Gilb of Los Angeles, California, Erin Kennedy of Brainerd and Jennessa Johnson of Springfield, Massachusetts.

Gilb said she wanted to participate to “bring attention to breast cancer. It’s one more way to make people aware and remind them to get mammograms and perform self exams.”

The team began fundraising for the walk over a year in advance in July 2013. Each member had to raise $2,300 to participate, and the Pink Sneakers exceeded their goal by donating over $16,500 toward breast cancer research, awareness and support. About 750 walkers participated in the event that took place Aug. 22-24 and raised over $2 million.

Some of the team’s family came to support them along the way. Miller’s family surprised her on the third day by showing up on the sidelines and cheering her on.

“Even though there were people all over the place, when you saw your family it helped give you a boost,” Gilb said.

“The boost to keep going,” added Biren.

There were a plethora of supporters that cheered on the walkers, members of the Pink Sneakers said. The women said they saw a pack of motorcycle riders dressed in pink that followed the walkers and revved up their engines, crowds waving signs of support with slogans like “Save Second Base” painted on them and groups that handed out water and snacks to participants.

“There were bras on everything,” the women said. “Trees, dogs, kids, men… a guy in a pink kilt and people along the route set up displays supporting us.”

Support vehicles that were on hand to help walkers were also decked out for the occasion, including a van called Mamoritaville that had an island theme and another vehicle with a pink deer strapped to the front and a sign reading “Support the Racks.”

“As a breast cancer survivor, it’s amazing to see how many people are there for you,” Gilb said.

On the third and last day of the walk, participants ended their 60-mile trek at the state Capitol for a closing ceremony. Walkers entered the Capitol, and participating survivors followed them in for an emotional moment.

“When the survivors walked in, all the walkers got down on one knee and raised a sneaker in honor,” Deacon said.

“I was surprised the by number of people going through treatment that walked,” said Biren. The other women said it made the constant reminder of their achy feet and tired bodies disappeared after seeing those women on the walk.

Looking back on the event, the women admitted the walk wasn’t an easy one, but it was worth it.

“It was hard and horrible, but the most wonderful thing to do,” said Biren.

“It was an experience I’ll never forget,” said Deacon. “It was inspirational, emotional, exhausting and awesome all at the same time.”