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Fighting cancer one step at a time


On a cold Saturday morning in February, Joyce Brown, right, Parkrose High School special education assistant and fellow walkers, from left, Katie Iverson and Lisa Aubin, trained on a 13-mile course through Vancouver for their May marathon. Brown, inspired by one of her students, walks to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
TIM CURRAN/Mid-county Memo
Brown, right, is pictured with her inspiration Felicia Seery, Brown joined former Parkrose Vice Principal Sue Ritchey's marathon walking team and walks to honor Parkrose High School sophomore Seery, in treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma.
Team mentor Karin O'Brien, who was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago. For O'Brien, Team in Training provides a way for her to fight back, and by serving as a mentor for the program, she can inspire others to meet their goals.
If you see Parkrose High School's special education assistant Joyce Brown walking briskly through the neighborhood, cheer her on. Brown - who has supported teachers in PHS classrooms for the past 20 years and who many might recognize as that familiar face volunteering to work the door at Broncos sports games, and whose daughter LaTasha was Parkrose's 2002 Rose Festival Ambassador - has found a new outlet for her altruism. On May 1, she walked the Eugene marathon as a member of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training, aiming to raise $3,000 to benefit the victims of the common blood cancers.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training (TNT), their largest fundraiser, also holds rank as the world's leading sports charity training program. TNT participants not only receive individualized exercise schedules from certified coaches, which include clinics on injury prevention and nutrition, they also gain emotional support from team mentors, and motivation from honored teammates, the survivors or sufferers of blood cancers who stand testament to their worthwhile efforts.

For her second marathon with the team, Brown has a special motivation. She will walk in honor of Felicia Seery, a PHS sophomore in treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma since March 2010. “The sweetest young lady you ever want to see,” as Brown described her, serves as her inspiration.

“Once I see the people that this is helping I remember the reason why I'm walking,” Brown said, “They are going through chemotherapy and constant pain. I can go through a little bit of pain. Having a couple of sore muscles doesn't come close to what they are going through so that gets me through.”

Many of her teammates found Team in Training through a personal link to the disease. Brown came to it socially, and found a cause in the process. Meg Kilmer, the college and career director for PHS, participated in a Team in Training race in Hawaii, and her description of it intrigued Brown. When Kilmer told her that former PHS Vice Principal Sue Ritchey coached for the program, Brown attended an information session to both see Ritchey, and learn more.

Before attending the session, Brown knew little about blood cancers, but the stories she heard at the meeting left an impression. She signed up for the Seattle marathon team that day. “When I got home I thought to myself 'what in the world did I just do?' I signed up to do a marathon that I had never done before, but I knew that it was for a good cause, and that is what got me going,” she recalled.

Most of us associate marathons with running races, but Team in Training is more inclusive, training people of all fitness levels to cross that finish line. Brown too, intended to run at first, but then, as she described, “my knee said no” so she walked it, in six and a half hours. “I felt really good,” she said of the Seattle marathon, “I thought I was going to be sore but I was not sore until I sat down. Trying to get back up was hard but I took that ice bath and the next day I was wonderful.”

Team in Training provides schedules and support for marathons, triathlons and bike races year round. Though participants may be training for different marathons, they train together, separated into running and walking teams. Brown walks with people training for Seattle, Eugene and San Diego marathons, some plan to go all 26.2 miles, like Brown, and some content themselves with half. She trains with the team on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Wednesdays they practice on speed and form. On Saturdays they go the long course for endurance, building up to walking 22 miles before the race. The rest of the week she walks according to a training schedule designed by her coach.

'Coach Sue,' as Brown refers to her former co-worker turned coach, came to find a whole new career through Team in Training. “I had a dear friend who had lymphoma, and she is the reason why I originally started doing Team in Training about 10 years ago,” cited the former PHS vice principal. “I did a number of events in her honor before she passed away and now I do them in her memory.” After participating in a few events, Ritchey aspired to coach. That was eight years ago and Ritchey is in her 22nd season of coaching.

Though the TNT has a national certification program for all coaches, Ritchey also sought her personal trainer degree in addition to her TNT certification. “I went back to school to become a trainer so that I can be a better coach,” she said the extra education gave her, “more skills and knowledge to share.” She plies her trade part time at Lloyd Athletic, a community based health club close to the Lloyd center. “If you told me back (in her school administration days) that I would be doing this today I never would have believed it,” she said, “it is all because of Team in Training.”

Team in Training is all about the people. A statistic on the Team in Training website states that every five minutes someone in the United States is diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma. “Every single training season as I meet new people on the team it reminds me of how important this work is,” said Ritchey. “Everybody has a story; almost everybody has a connection in some way. I know that we are not just sitting on the sidelines, we are out there trying to do something.”

Brown and Ritchey walk for and often with those who their fundraising will support. When team mentor Karin O'Brien, who was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago, last visited her oncologist, she told him straight out that she had plans through the spring so whatever he wanted to tell her, it couldn't disrupt her schedule. Her plans: three half marathons and two whole marathons. For O'Brien, Team in Training provides a way for her to fight back, and by serving as a mentor for the program, she can inspire others to meet their goals. One of the drugs developed with help from the proceeds of the program took her leukemia blood count from 69 percent of her white blood cells to .9 percent. Though she noted that science has not yet found a cure for her specific kind of leukemia, “I feel that every one of these people who are raising money are raising money for me to get the latest and greatest.”

Mentors like O'Brien act as TNT's personal cheerleaders, both on the physical and the fundraising side. “A lot of people think that they couldn't do it,” she said, “but if you are with the Team in Training they will get you across that line.” She credits her own mentors for helping her finish her first race, which she undertook shortly after her diagnosis. “We made a five person chain,” she recalled, “and that chain supported me to the finish line, so if people think they can't do it they have never checked into Team in Training. They can do it.” She now mentors to give back.

Brown admits that, for her, fundraising poses the most challenging aspect of Team in Training. “That is the hardest part for me, to ask people for money,” she said. Mentors and honored teammates remind participants what the funds contribute to.

The bond that develops between survivors, strugglers and supporters brought together through Team in Training perpetuates itself. “That is one of the things that you gain from doing this,” said Brown, “you get to meet new wonderful people who also have a goal and a cause that they want to help, and by the time the race is over we will be a family.” People participate in marathons for a myriad of reasons, but when you see purple t-shirts in the mix, you see Team in Training. Brown wears pictures of honored teammates pinned to her purple shirt, one of which, a little boy named Hunter, lost his battle last March.

“When you have a loved one diagnosed with a life-threatening disease like that you feel so powerless,” said Ritchey, “but Team in Training empowers us to change things and make things better, so it is an absolute joy to do what I do. When I see the team they inspire me season after season. It is a real privilege to support their hard work.”

To support Brown's efforts on the behalf of Felicia Seery and others suffering from blood cancers you may help her meet her fundraising goal by donating online at

And if you see her briskly walking around your block, wave and cheer her on. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, every nine minutes someone with a blood cancer looses the battle. Brown and others have a long walk ahead in the fight against these diseases.
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