Judy Narde isn't walking for herself.
She's walking for her friends and family and people she doesn't even know. That's the beauty of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk. It brings together people of all walks of life for one main cause -- breast cancer awareness.
For Narde, a Lilburn resident who has lived in Gwinnett County since 1996, it was a family friend and a sister-in-law who were diagnosed the same day seven years ago that prompted her to do her first walk.
"The two of them are fine, but of course, when you get involved you meet so many more people," said Narde, 48, who is participating in her sixth walk this year.
Then, someone in her church died -- on the woman's birthday, her cousin had a mastectomy the week before Narde's first 3-Day, and one of her teammates died the year she walked in Boston.
The woman -- Marilyn Cook -- was a teammate in the Atlanta 3-Day in 2007. Three years later, she lost her battle to breast cancer. "She always rocked a pink boa," Narde said.
So, now: "That walk and every one since, I carry a pink feathered boa, and I watch feathers fly in the breeze as I walk. I know she is cheering us on from her heavenly home."
It's a little bit of her old teammate floating around her -- staying a part of the walk even in death.
"I know way too many people who have died from it and way to many people who’ve had it," Narde said. "And, thank god I've not had it. So, I do what can and that's to walk and raise money."
All total, she's raised about $16,000 over the six years she has participated. She's walked in Atlanta, Boston, and Philadelphia so far.
Besides walking, it's about raising awareness, she said. In that spirit, Narde's 10-year-old daughter has been participating with her every year. Most of the time, she's been at cheering stations with her mom and fellow Girl Scouts.
This year, Narde's daughter will be a part of Tampa's 3-Day's Youth Corp, which gives children ages 10-16 the chance for more advanced participation and responsibility.
Meanwhile, Narde will be walking in the Tampa 3-Day. This weekend, she will be volunteering to assist walkers in Atlanta.
"You will never in your life feel more loved and respected than at the end of the 3-Day," she said.
It's important, she points out, that communities get involved supporting the walkers, not only the walkers supporting the cause. It makes a big difference, she said, when the thousands of participants can walk by businsses, homes, parks and see them decorated.
People handing out goodies for the tired walkers, or simply honking their horns in encouragement and solidarity is also a great gesture, she added. One year she got frozen grapes from people along the route.
When they walk through communities it's like a big, pink reminder -- breast cancer is real. People have died, but people also are living. And, that's why Narde believes early detection is so vital to the fight against the disease.
"You need to be on top of this," she said. "You just can't take this for granted."
To support Judy Narde's fundraising efforts and to see more about her story, check the 2012 Tampa Bay 3-Day event site.
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