Race for the Cure


When breast cancer treatment made Shawn Gardner’s 26-year-oldsister’s hair fall out, she didn’t opt for a wig or a kerchief and try to gounnoticed. Heather wanted people to talk about the disease that would rob herof her future. Shawn promised himself he would do the same, and more. In the 10years since his sister died, he has made sure Heather is remembered and herdisease combated by holding a student talent show and leading a team in theannual Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure.  Along the way, Gardnerhas walked his way to raising an amazing total of $375,000 for the globalleader in the fight against breast cancer.


This makes Gardner’s “Team Heather” one of the Race’stop individual fund-raisers. But that’s not the only reason he’s become soclose to Komen founder Nancy Brinker. His drive to help end breast cancer inresponse to his sister’s tragic death is reminiscent of the promise Brinkermade to her sister Susan G. Komen that led Brinker to create the organizationin her sister’s name. As Komen lay ill 32 years ago, Brinker promised hersister that she would make ending breast cancer forever her life’s work.


Brinker has spoken of Gardner as embodying exactly thecommitment she has brought to the fight, and sought to inspire in others, a commitmentto “the power of one,” of each individual having the power to push forsolutions to seemingly impossible problems.


All I know is that, for Shawn and me,there’s nothing voluntary about this particular volunteer work…[T]he loss of asister or mother or daughter leaves a lit fuse” Brinker wrote in her 2010memoir, “Promise Me: How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to EndBreast Cancer.”


“Perhaps one of the most important functions of the Race forthe Cure is that it gives co-survivors an opportunity to come together… torelease that explosive energy as they struggle to find and redefine themselvesand each other.”


An English teacher at South Country Secondary School in Lorton,Virginia, Gardner of Washington, DC was inspired by Brinker and the impact ofone and made the decision to do what he could in honor of his youngestsister.  For Shawn, this meant the promise to carry on her desire to getpeople talking about the disease.


“She always wanted people to ask her about it, talk about it,”says Gardner, explaining her decision to not cover her bald head followingchemotherapy. “She opened up the conversation for many.”


To carry on that courage to get people talking, Shawn isempowering his middle and high school students to be actively learning aboutwhat fuels them to take action.


“I just want them to know the importance of being active,”Gardner says. “If not for this cause, than something they are passionate for.”


Gardner has organized his students for the past six years toperform a talent show in honor of his sister. This past March, 19 student actsplayed in front of special guest Nancy Brinker the piano, performed Celticdancing and sang country and pop songs to raise $9,500 for Komen. Come June 2,Gardner will be walking once again for “Team Heather” on the National Mall forKomen’s 23rd annual Global Race for the Cure to add to thealready $11 million worth of Komen grants currently funding programs in theNational Capital Area.  This will be his11th walk for Heather his sister.


For more on Race for the Cure’s walk this year, visit their website!


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