Northern Nippys walk the walk to find a cure

A bald-headed woman sat on a bench outside her Twin Cities home on a summer’s day. Hundreds of people walked past her that day, many of them wearing the iconic pink ribbon of breast cancer awareness. To each walker, the woman shouted, “Thank you for walking. Thank you for saving my life.”

On the third and final day of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, the Northern Nippys pace toward the finish line in the bright morning sunshine. Photos courtesy of Northern Nippys

On the third and final day of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, the Northern Nippys pace toward the finish line in the bright morning sunshine. Photos courtesy of Northern Nippys

Laura Lamson was among the walking throng that day, participating in her first Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure fund-raiser for breast cancer research and patient support.

“When I saw her there and heard what she said, that was it. I knew I had to walk again,” Lamson said.

And so she asked fellow workout warrior and friend Jeaninne Engler if she’d like to join her on the three-day, 60-mile long walk. Engler eagerly agreed and invited a few more friends to join their team and walk the 2013 3-Day for the Cure.

Soon they had five members, then 10, then 15, then 20. By the time the Aug. 23-25 Twin Cities event took its first steps, the 35-member Northern Nippys team stood ready to walk the walk. They had formed the largest walking team of any participating in the event. And among them were cancer survivors Shelly Bromen, Sue Nelson and Connie Irlbeck.

The Northern Nippys chose that team name to reflect members’ hometowns (all currently or originally from Oak Grove, St. Francis, Ramsey, Andover, East Bethel and Anoka). And they wanted something catchy, something memorable.

“We wanted people to know who we are and what we’re doing,” said Lamson.

“We are work out buddies, sisters, neighbors, co-workers – we are forever friends.”

The 28 walking members of the 35-member Northern Nippys Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure team pose for a first-day portrait.

The 28 walking members of the 35-member Northern Nippys Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure team pose for a first-day portrait.

Fellow Northern Nippy Lori Gerhardson put it this way.

“This is a bond like no other. It can’t be explained until you walk the walk,” she said. “Someone asked me ‘Why would you walk?’ Well, why wouldn’t I? I walk because I can.”

“We’re just walking. You (cancer patients) are fighting for your life.”

Others of the Northern Nippys also expressed a passionate desire to walk the 3-Day: one small step for women; a giant step for womankind.

“You think of what others are going through … Walking is nothing,” said Tracy Burman.

“This is just the most overwhelming experience I’ve ever had,” said first-time walker Deborah Woodruff.

Her overflowing passions spilled over to her husband, Jack, the Northern Nippys’ No. 1 fan, faithful supporter and the first (and so far only) male member on the 2014 Northern Nippys 3-Day for the Cure team.

“My dad died of cancer when he was 50,” he said. “My mom – at 80 and a half (years old) – was told she had cancer and doctors asked what she wanted to do. She said she wanted to fight it, she wanted treatment – she had too much she still wanted to do in life.”

“Well, she’s 88 now and still going strong. She’s one reason Deb walked this year. I guess if mom can beat that and if Deb can walk 60 miles, well I can, too.”

Burman has already signed up to walk again next year, as have many of her teammates.

“It doesn’t matter – you have countless blisters, injuries, lost toenails – but even with deformities, I still signed up for next year,” Burman said.

“I left this walk totally inspired by all these women,” said team captain Lamson. “Our goal next year is to raise $100,000 and I without a doubt know we can do it.”

That goal seems reasonable, since the 2013 Northern Nippys raised $87,059 – the most raised by any Twin Cities 2013 Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure team.

The Nippys raised money in many ways: some sold their plasma, some collected aluminum cans, some staged a dog wash day, some threw a beer bust, some had garage sales, some sold T-shirts. And all of them activated a social media blast, contacting friends and family members via Facebook, email, Twitter – anything to get the word out and invite folks to support their 3-Day for the Cure walking mission.

Shanna Johnson, whose cousin is fighting stage 4 breast cancer, described her teammates’ passionate determination.

“These guys rock. They really do,” she said. “The spirit that’s around you, the energy, the cheering … That really keeps you going.”

Lamson summed up the passions behind the Northern Nippys’ determination to walk the walk.

“We all have different reasons for walking,” she said. “We walk because we survived breast cancer. We walk because a loved one is currently fighting. We walk because we have daughters that shouldn’t ever have to. We walk because hundreds of people gave us their time and money, trusting we would make a difference in this world for us and for them. We walk because we simply cannot walk away.”

To pledge donations for the Northern Nippys 2014 Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure team, visit www.the3day.org/goto/northernnippys2014.

To learn more about the Susan G. Komen breast cancer movement, visit ww5.komen.org.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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