Kim Lower’s voice crackles with raw emotion as she tells others why she participated in the Susan G. Komen Phoenix 3-Day for the Cure.
“I lost my sister, Rhonda Curtis, on June 9 to breast cancer,” she says. “I wanted to do it for her.
Lower participated in the 60-mile walk held Nov. 12 and 13 as a solo entrant.
There were, however, several teams from Payson that traveled to the Valley to participate in the fund-raiser that earned $4.4 million for innovative breast cancer research and community breast health and education programs.
Arlene Wion, Lori Walker, Sally Low and C.C. Childree, who call themselves the Rim Country Ta Tas, raised more than $12,000, some of which came from yard sales and bake sales held locally.
Walker calls the walk a “great adventure” while Low says, “It was a joint effort and we hope it will bring us all one step closer to the cure.”
Payson Elementary School teacher Jen White also captained a team that included former Payson High School track star Lura Ryden (Goldman), Amanda Hollowell, Tiffany Goldman, BreAnne Huff and Corey Johnson.
The team participated under the name “The Payson Pink Warriors.”
While 60 miles might seem to some an extremely long distance to cover in three days, it wasn’t an overwhelming challenge for Lower.
“It wasn’t a struggle,” she said. “There was a suggested training schedule and my husband (David) did all of it with me so I was prepared.”
Goldman lauded Lower’s efforts saying, “She trained to a T, she was awesome.”
For both Walker and Lower, a special reward during the three days was meeting other walkers, making new friends and listening to their stories.
“As we walked, we’d start up conversations with people we’d never met before,” said Lower.
“Everyone had their own story to tell; everyone had somehow been affected (by cancer).”
Among the most common reasons for participating, the Payson walkers learned, were to honor those who had lost their battle with the disease, to celebrate survivorship and to raise awareness in the fight against breast cancer.
Among the most memorable people Lower met was an elderly couple who were standing curbside loudly cheering for the walkers.
“They had lost two daughters at an early age (to breast cancer) and said they couldn’t walk, but were there to show their appreciation to those who were walking,” Lower said.
Walker remembers everyone she met during the three days was friendly, helpful, gracious and eager to make a personal difference in the fight against breast cancer.
Ryden calls the walk “an unbelievable experience, I didn’t know what to expect, but there were so many people, some were survivors, who wanted to make a difference.”
During the three days of non-stop walking, it was the family members, friends and absolute strangers who formed cheering sections along the way that helped motivate the walkers to continue along on their tiring journey.
“Even if we were getting a little down, those people cheering for us really made a difference,” said Lower. “Even the crossing guards got into it, yelling words of encouragement.”
Goldman calls those who turned out to cheer the walkers, “very inspiring.”
The walk began at Freestone Park in Gilbert and continued through portions of Mesa, Tempe, Paradise Valley, and Scottsdale before wrapping up at the fair grounds in Phoenix.
At the conclusion of each day’s walk, most entrants resided in a “tent city” set up by event organizers.
“They were a sea of pink tents,” said Lower. “I’m a camper, so I stayed in a tent along with another walker that was a member of a team.”
Popular attractions in the tent cities were sponsor-funded booths where walkers could enjoy back and foot massages to relieve any aches and pains incurred during the long day’s journey.
Organizers say the cities also gave the participants the opportunity to “relax and renew their spirit with their fellow walkers.”
Each evening at 9 p.m. in tent city, organizers requested a “lights out” and at 5 a.m. the next morning, walkers were to be up, dressed and ready to continue their quest.
Among those grateful to the Rim Country residents who participated is longtime Payson High School English teacher Phyllis McGinnes.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago, so this walk means a lot personally to me,” she said. “I think what they did is tremendous.”
The first 3-Day for the Cure was held in 1983 in Dallas, Texas and drew 800 runners.
By 1995, the race had grown to include 57 U.S. cities.
Years later races were held in Costa Rica and Italy.
By 2002, more than 1.3 million people participated in more than 100 races around the U.S. and in two foreign countries.
Up to 75 percent of the proceeds from each race, which were held this fall in 15 cities, stays in the local community to fund breast health education and breast cancer screening and treatment projects.