Starting a new tradition

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In today's Badger Blog, senior Kelsey Horton talks about starting a new tradition of volunteering at UW and what participating in the Gilda's Club Run/Walk meant to her. 

As the my fellow seniors and I filed into coach Healy's office before the start of what would be our last fall semester as Badger softball players, we were asked how we wanted to be remembered. 

We knew what steps needed to be taken on the field to achieve the goals we set out for ourselves but we also looked outside the lines. We wanted to start a new tradition that would stick with this program even after we were long gone. Volunteering and charity work has been a staple within UW softball and something we love committing our time to off the field. 

After discussing our options with our coaches we decided that Gilda's Club was a good place to begin a new year of volunteer work. Gilda's Club was named as a tribute to Gilda Radner who died of ovarian cancer in 1989 and is a community support program for people living with cancer, their families and friends. The Gilda's Club here in Madison holds a fundraising 5k walk/run and 10k which has grown tremendously since they first started the event five years ago.

On October 21, we worked as course marshals to encourage the participants, assisted in the lunch provided after the race was over and also helped supervise the kids' bouncy house and play area. 

The volunteers were given a brief history describing how Gilda Radner's husband, Gene Wilder, and her cancer psychotherapist, Joanna Bull, founded the club as a means of providing meeting places where men, women and children living with cancer and their families and friends join with others to build emotional and social support as a supplement to their medical care. 

This nonprofit organization has helped over 1,400 people in 14 counties in southwest Wisconsin. The volunteers also received a tour of the facilities which included amenities like a recreation room, kids play room, full kitchen and lounge areas where members can relax. As the morning progressed, it was off to work and everyone assumed their positions for the start of the race. 

A few Badgers signed up to run the race including Stephanie Peace and Cassandra Darrah. The participants stood at the start line and were able to hear stories from a few cancer survivors whose families had joined Gilda's Club. They described how a teenage son, who at first felt like he had no one to talk to about the devastating news of his mother's diagnosis, found a support group who welcomed him with open arms. This along, with many other stories, fueled the runners as they took off from the start line and remained present in their minds throughout the race. 

The experience stuck with our Badger volunteers but hit home especially for Mary Massei who is a thyroid cancer survivor. While speaking with Mary after the race, she said that she had not expected her time spent volunteering to be emotional but after hearing the history and stories from survivors like her, she wishes she had also found a support group like those at Gilda's Club. 
Her family and friends were there for her throughout her whole battle which was not an easy task; the people at Gilda's provide a welcoming environment away from the emotionally charged health care setting where people can simply be themselves. During the tour of the club, Mary was browsing the library and found a book that piqued her interest. She describes it as a guide to dealing with the memory of enduring cancer and treatment even after it is all over. Mary has been cancer free for one year and four months, but says there is still so much to work on within herself. 

Mary volunteered as a course marshal and felt the impact of what Gilda's Run was all about as the participants ran by. Our course marshals directed the runners with no idea of whether the people running by were survivors, friends of survivors, or people who had simply heard about the race. 

It all just puts it in perspective, the resilience and determination people have within themselves. We are so thankful to have heard the inspiring stories of so many strong people and to have witnessed so much generosity. We are honored to have been a part of raising over $50,000 from over 1,000 volunteers and participants for this remarkable organization. 
This is the start of a new tradition for the Badger softball team.

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