Walking the Marrow Out of Life

by Matthew on September 5, 2008

Sick of negative news cascading down from most of your media intake?  Here’s a quick story that I’m overdue in sharing but is timeless and can’t help but bring a smile.  Over a Notre Dame football weekend up in the Bend last year (ND vs. Fredo if you must know), my college teammate and good friend, Tony Fonseca, and our spouses were talking about the upcoming milestone of his mom’s 60th birthday.  Not such a big deal, you’re probably thinking.  Well, if you’ve had breast cancer, fought it off, and are living with the added title of “survivor”, 60th birthdays are big milestones.  As some background to her road to survivorship, Tony’s mom, Dianne, was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 1999.  Within 10 days of diagnosis, she had a single mastectomy and began chemo.

We mentioned something about Atlanta’s Susan G Komen 3-Day Walk (SGK), a 60 mile excursion over 3 days with all proceeds going towards the SGK Breast Cancer Foundation.  Immediately you could see Tony’s eyes light up.  He then proclaimed that his mom’s 60th birthday “gift” was going to be doing the SGK event in Boston next year.  As he makes this statement, I’m thinking to myself, ‘you call that a gift?!?!’  Picking up the tab at a nice restaurant, some tickets to the theater, hell, a nice bottle of wine, might suffice.  Sure enough, after Tony gets back to Providence, he sits down with his younger brother Vinny, and they start scheming on how to literally get his mother and father from 0-60 (miles!) in 6 months.

Fast-forward to February ‘08, and it’s Dianne Fonseca’s 60th birthday.  Tony and Vinny have already gone to a couple of Boston SGK events, raised all of the $4.4k needed for their mom and dad to participate, picked up the informational DVD and on the big day they pop the disc into the player for their mom and dad to take in – surprise!  Dianne and her husband, Antonio, are indeed shocked.  The concept of training for 6 months and the uncertainty in that alone, not just tackling 60 miles in 3-days in distant August, caused an understandable amount of anxiety.  But in addition to some trepidation, there was some nervous excitement.  Dianne and Antonio set out on the adventure the following week.  I shouldn’t have been surprised considering immediately after her first chemo treatment in ’99, Mrs. F defiantly went to a friend’s wedding to make sure her body knew who was running things.

With some ENDURight guidance, the Fonsecas diligently prepared for the Boston SGK.  Over the course of 25 weeks, they walked more than 620 miles.  They logged an additional 33 hours of aerobic conditioning and complementary strength training in order to fully prepare them for the 60 mile effort.  They trained in 5 different states: Florida, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Texas.  They did this while attending weddings, grading AP exams, vacationing, in rain, in the cold, in the early, early morning and at night. A month out from the event, I got to see them at another teammate’s wedding in Austin.  They looked like how we all wish we felt on a daily basis.  You could literally see the health – physical and mental – radiating from their bodies.

The Celebration

The Celebration

Leading up to the big event, things got better.  A couple of weeks prior to the race, the Boston SGK committee notified Dianne that she had been selected as one of 8 event dignitaries.  As such, she walked in a special opening ceremony with her fellow appointed survivors.  On the 2nd night of the 3-Day, she was the Keynote speaker, sharing her story with all the 3-Day participants.  While on the podium during Dianne’s Keynote explaining how her son’s had gifted her this odyssey, the crowd of 2,000+ participants and volunteers broke out in a jubilant “Happy Birthday” tribute.  Seriously, how cool is that?

The great thing for me during all of this is that I get the luxury of watching it unfold on the sidelines.  I see the transformation of two people who never in a million years would have thought they would be setting an alarm for 5:30 AM on a Saturday so they could be on the trail at 6 to start a 15 mile walk, especially considering that 9 years prior there might not have been another Saturday for Mrs. F.  I get to see how the tables have been turned on Tony and Vinny.  After all those years of being swim parents – the shepherding to and from workouts, planned family vacations around swim meets, feeding two male teenage swimmers (!!!) – Dianne and Antonio are now having their sons buy the shoes, make the necessary arrangements and juggle their schedules around their parents’ athletic needs.  And one better, I see a family completely galvanized behind this incredibly difficult, yet achievable, common goal.  All the while, I get front-row seats to this celebration of survivorship – all this just for putting together an Excel spreadsheet with workouts for 25 weeks and getting on email and the phone every now and then.  Again, how cool is that?

As I had told Mr. and Mrs. Fonseca all along, the 3-Day itself, the event, was a just a celebration of the process.  It was celebrating Dianne’s survivorship, Antonio’s partnership, a family’s love for one another and the gift of life we all take for granted until one day our world turns upside down and what was once a certainty is anything but.  When I spoke to the Fonseca’s the night after their second day of the event, they were in the highest of spirits.  They felt great.  They were having a blast.  In the process of diligently executing the plan, they had prepared appropriately.  Completing the last day was already an afterthought.  They were living it up and soaking in the experience, literally personifying Thoreau.

The 3-Day was a party they will keep with them forever.  It wasn’t just another ‘been there, done that’ check it off the list item.  It was a deeply personal landmark in a journey leading husband and wife, two life partners, their two children and a family unit to that moment.  It was a journey that began in a doctor’s office on a New England summer day back in 1999 and continues each day Dianne Fonseca puts one foot in front of the other and walks…and walks…and walks.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Haley September 5, 2008 at 3:17 am

That’s awesome.

Murph Dogg September 5, 2008 at 4:36 am

Senor Blog,
On what date did the brothers put on their charlty boxing event –fighting each other?

Seriously though, great story! :)

Matthew September 5, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Yeah, Murph, the Brady Bros. are all grownsed up

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