‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger’ ~Friedrich Nietzsche
I’ve loved the Girlfriends Half Marathon for years and am embarrassed to say I had no idea who was the woman behind this run. I’m not talking Sherri McMillan, although, she’s who makes this run happen. Joleen Skarberg wears bib #1 at the Girlfriends Run for a Cure (new name this year) because she’s the reason this run started in the first place. Joleen started training with Sherri McMillan 15 years ago, before Sherri opened up her own personal training studio in Vancouver, Washington. For years, Sherri, Joleen and some girlfriends would travel to San Francisco for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, until it became crazy popular and increasingly difficult to get into.
Then in 2007, at age 55, Joleen discovered a lump. Her diagnosis came on Valentine’s Day; it was breast cancer. Her treatment included 3 lumpectomies, 3 months of chemotherapy and 7 weeks of radiation. Joleen didn’t let the chemotherapy or radiation stop her. She walked during her treatments as often as she could and even participated in Hippie Chick and the Go Girl Trail Run through chemotherapy. The Go Girl Trail Run was one week before her last treatment. She was completely bald, but laced up anyway and decided to use it to her advantage. She talked her sister into joining her and they continue to walk and run together today. I love that Joleen took something so scary and turned it into a positive experience- she simply loved being able to participate. ‘Pretty cool for me to be able to feel normal and be out there.’ Her chemotherapy nurse even participated in the Go Girl Trail Run, another example of some truly exceptional people out there.
Throughout treatments, she still participated in Sherri’s classes and tried to remain active, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. The treatments got progressively harder, she had no appetite, lost over 30 pounds, had no sense of taste and issues with her memory. Fortunately, she had a lot of support from family, friends and workout buddies. Her daughters and husband were with her and either one or both of her daughters joined her for each and every chemotherapy treatment. They packed a lunch and some magazines and made a day of it. Holding hands, they would say a prayer before every treatment. Her friends helped her get through it with phone calls and visits and, and of course, Sherri and her workout friends were supportive.
Who inspires this amazing lady? “Sherri has been inspiring me for 15 years. I love that girl.” Her family inspires her too, emotionally and physically. They love to get out and walk or run together. For her last birthday, her family participated in the Barrel to Keg. Her son in laws, one of her daughters and her grandson ran the 70 mile relay together. It was “really a momentous time for me as I handed off to my grandson twice.” She’s also inspired by the group of ladies she runs with, all in their 50’s and 60’s. “They are amazing gals who I’d be lost without. They keep me going.” Always planning their next event, these ladies encourage and challenge each other.
It took me 8 years to finally hear the story behind the Girlfriends Run for a Cure, but not too late to inspire me. I love to witness how many women have been touched and positively influenced because of Joleen’s diagnosis. She didn’t allow negative energy and self-pity to get in the way, this brave woman decided to face breast cancer head on and has encouraged others to do the same. Many women have participated in this run while going through treatment and so many more have run it to support others. Joleen met two ladies this year that ran it to remember their mom/grandmother and they even had her picture on the back of their shirts. They hugged and cried at the finish line, but finished knowing they did it in her honor. I’m sure she would be proud.
I’ll be looking for bib #1 next year at the Girlfriends Run for a Cure. Joleen is my new inspiration, not allowing cancer to stop her, or even come close. Instead this woman has used it to become empowered. She inspires others, encourages those around her and, because of her positive outlook, has helped so many women, even if she doesn’t know it. A run that has touched thousands of women and it all started because of one woman. Ladies meet every October in Vancouver to run because of Joleen Skarberg, a woman with heart and an infectious spirit that wouldn’t let breast cancer defeat her.