Making Strides to raise breast cancer awareness

By Alizabeth Christian

As a swarming crowd of pink gathered outside of the Stile Athletics Field House, excited walkers for Making Strides of Akron cheerfully shouted amongst one another while waiting for the three-mile walk ahead of them. With the sun beginning to peak from the clouds and a cool autumn breeze, the conditions were perfect for walkers to convene together in the fight against breast cancer.

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Making Strides of Akron is an annual, noncompetitive walk-a-thon that takes place on The University of Akron’s campus. On Sunday, Oct. 20, more than 1,400 participants and 245 teams united together to support survivors of breast cancer and those still fighting the disease.

“I am very blessed to be walking here today,” survivor Tammy Lehart said. “It has almost been one year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After my treatment, I knew I had to walk for those who were still dealing [with their fight].”

Lehart was diagnosed with breast cancer on Nov. 6, 2012. Finishing treatment less than two months ago, Lehart joined team Bella Bronze in order to raise money for breast cancer awareness. At the end of the day, Bella Bronze raised approximately $2,926, placing seventh out of the 245 teams participating.

“It is overwhelming to see all of the support,” Lehart said. “We really need to find a cure for breast cancer and ways to prevent it.”

Other top-placing teams were Alpha Technologies, Summa Breast in Stow, Passion for Caring and Hope Glows. According to the American Cancer Society, a total of $87,543 was raised for Making Strides of Akron. The donated money will raise further awareness about breast cancer and continued research for a cure.

As the walk-a-thon continued past the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, Breanna Ogle and her daughter Maddie walked proudly, representing Breanna’s aunt who is currently battling stage four breast cancer.

“I am here for my aunt and for my friend’s mother. She just passed away two weeks ago from breast cancer,” Ogle said. “I have been doing this for six years and I love it. I know I am helping a good cause.”

The course of the three-mile walk began at the Stile Field House and gradually worked its way across campus. Winding around the recreation center and then crossing by the College of Arts and Sciences, the crowd circled back, walked past Bierce Library and headed toward Shrank Hall. Walking through the soccer field and onto East Exchange Street, the route was completed several times within one hour.

Shortly up ahead of Ogle were the buoyant cheers of volunteers and fellow walkers. Stacey Ryan, in the group ahead, was completely covered from head to toe in pink. Sporting a bright pink wig, a neon party hat and several breast cancer symbols drawn on her face, Ryan joyfully let those around her know of her encouragement.

“I really like to get in the spirit,” Ryan said. “I can’t do much, but what I can do is walk. What’s so cool about an event like this is that all walks of life join together to fight.”

Survivors wearing long, pink sashes with white text that read “Survivor” ranged from those who recently defeated breast cancer to those who defeated it more than 25 years ago.

“I have been free of my cancer for 17 years,” survivor Joann Anderson said. “The year I was diagnosed, my sister started walking for me in these fundraisers. I started walking alongside of her shortly after I was completely healed. When I was diagnosed, I realized that life is too short to take for granted. I am truly grateful to be alive!”

Wrapping around the InfoCision Stadium for the last time, the three-mile walk came to a close and walkers gathered together inside of the Stile Field House for refreshments and community.

Breast cancer survivors stood outside of the building with pink flags, shouting out support to the remaining walkers. Sounding off in the background along with the shouts of supporters was Akron’s No. 1 rickshaw service, Rickshaw Willie.

Willie, who has been volunteering at cancer fundraising events for more than four years, loves to create a laugh and a smile with his enthusiastic boosts of spirit. Honking his rickshaw horn and dancing, Willie brought even more life into the event.

“I have two daughters and a wife,” Willie said. “I know anyone can be a victim of [breast cancer], so I try to volunteer whenever I can. This is a great cause, and I try to make it special!”

When first entering the Stiles Field House, walkers were greeted by volunteers handing out free merchandise, fruit and water. Upbeat music blared through overhead speakers and retiring walkers celebrated their fight against breast cancer through cheering, dancing and encouraging one another.

“Anything we can do will benefit this fight. My family has been touched by cancer on multiple occasions and I know if I help by walking, I can create a sort of ripple effect and make a difference,” Carol Powell, a first time walker, said.

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