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April 22, 2014

BEAM: A walk to remember

— You probably didn’t see Christine Vogt cross the finish line last Saturday at the Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon. By the time she took those final steps, few supporters lined the streets.

From start to finish, four hours had elapsed since the Louisville resident began her 13.1-mile trek around the city. By mile 9, when I spoke with her, the pain had set in. So did the smallest bit of doubt whether or not she could really complete this race, the longest of which she’d ever participated.

Unlike so many of the runners ahead of her, Christine wasn’t walking for a time or a medal or a personal record. All she wanted was to finish and complete her mission to raise money and awareness for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training.

At races where we pay so much attention to the winners, it’s easy to forget those participants who might not be the fastest or most flamboyant.

Hundreds of runners and walkers dedicate their time and effort to charities, many of which support cancer patients and research. Near the back of the pack is where these types of stories come to light.

A few minutes ahead of Christine, Louisville resident Karen Morrison walks wearing a pink tutu and a set of butterfly wings. Within the wings, a photo of a smiling woman with blonde hair rests. This is Nancy Hughes, Karen’s friend who died of cancer this past fall.

Karen and her 17-year-old daughter did the mini for the first time six years ago after her daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Every year since, they’ve walked for Gilda’s Club, an organization named for comedian Gilda Radner that helps individuals and families affected by cancer. Karen serves as its president and CEO.

“All of the team Gilda members, there are about 30 to 35 of us out here today, and a lot of the folks here are cancer survivors. Some of them are still in treatment for cancer,” Karen said. “The fact that they have such courage and can be so inspiring to other people and so helpful while they are going through such a tough challenge, it makes you appreciate your own health.”

Walking for others also inspired Christine. The six white ribbons pinned on the back of her shirt motivated her forward. Each proclaimed a name of a hero. The first name, her father, had died from lymphoma 39 years ago when she was only 15 years old. Recently her sister had been diagnosed with the same disease.

Their cause was why she had signed up with Team In Training. In its 25-year existence, the sports training program has raised more than $1.3 billion to help fund blood cancer research and provide services to patients.

“It keeps you going,” Christine said during the race. “Even though right now I feel like I’m going to pass out.”

“Think about the people on the back of your shirt who are picking you up,” answered Team In Training coach Teresa Saborsky as she tried to feed Christine a bite of granola bar.

Fourteen years ago, Teresa started volunteering with Team In Training. Back then, she said, she saw more people who didn’t survive than did. You can imagine her memory heroes, those who have succumbed to cancer, filling the backs of numerous shirts.

“Every time I think of slowing down, someone I know gets diagnosed with some form of cancer and this is what I can do,” Teresa said. “We’re going to someday have a cure. We’re going to kick it in the butt, right? And that’s going to be soon. Because it’s a horrible nasty disease and this is what we can do to make a difference.”

By mile 12, spurred by either Teresa’s pep talk or the nibbles of carbs, Christine started to feel better. Another team leader walked with her, pouring water over her head. Underneath her breath, she began to repeat a mantra. “I can do this.”

And she did. In 11,568th place, Christine passed the finish line at 12:01 p.m., those six strips of white ribbon trailing behind her.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at adbeam47@aol.com

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